WHEN BMW announced last month that it was recalling 30,000 of its 2007 to 2010 X5 sport utility vehicles over the mere possibility that they could lose power brake assist, few took notice of the fact that the car manufacturer was not saying that the braking system was faulty, but that it could become faulty over time.
The announcement signalled how car safety has become absolutely non-negotiable in the motoring world.
In 2010 BMW recalled about 200,000 vehicles for the same problem, and this time they said the brake booster could fail, meaning that while the brakes would still function, the power assist could be lost.
BMW laid the problem to a check valve of the brake vacuum pump leaking a small amount of lubricating oil into the vacuum hose. If that reaches the brake booster, it could fail.
In another action, Chrysler says it is recalling 3,660 2003 to 2004 Dodge Vipers because the air bags might deploy without the vehicles being in an accident. Now, that is serious.
In a report to safety agencies, Chrysler said it recently determined that the high-performance sports cars had the same problem that required about 745,000 Jeeps to be recalled last year.
BMW and Chrysler described their recalls as voluntary, but once a manufacturer is aware of a safety problem it has five working days to tell the agency of its plan for a recall or face a civil fine.
As manufacturers grapple with the recalls, they are also taking in suggestions aimed at lessening the risks of “distracted driving” by voluntarily limiting the functions of electronic devices built into vehicles.
The suggestions focus on amenities, including communication, entertainment, and navigation devices that the makers include in their vehicles nowadays.
It could be a few years before any of the guidelines are adopted, but automakers have scrambled in recent years to offer the latest technology — whether 3-D displays, access to Facebook, internal Wi-Fi, or voice-activated calling.
A study showed that the visual and manual tasks required by hand-held phones and other devices tripled the risks of an accident. The study found that text messaging required drivers to take their eyes off the road for an average of 23.3 seconds total, for example.
The guidelines recommend limiting the amount of time drivers have to take their eyes off the road to perform any task to two seconds at a time and a total of 12 seconds.
Activists want automakers to make it impossible for drivers to use some electronic functions, like text messaging, Internet browsing, and video-based entertainment or communications unless the vehicle is stopped and is locked in “Park”.
Yes, that is how far we have come, from the days of a simple, rickety box to Wi-Fi and Facebook on the dashboard. Below, the evolution of car safety through the years:
1771: Experimental steam-driven tractor invented
1869: Earliest recorded automobile fatality
1889: First production of automobile, by Karl Benz
1889: First vehicle designed from scratch to be an automobile rather than a horse-drawn carriage fitted with an engine
1893: First budget for rural road development to serve wagons, coaches, and bicycles on dirt roads in the US
1895: George B. Selden is granted a US patent for a two-stroke automobile engine
1914: First ‘STOP’ sign introduced
1919: First three-colour traffic light installed
1930s: Official advocation for seat belts and padded dashboards
1934: First barrier crash test performed
1949: First safety cage rolls out, world’s first padded dashboard fitted
1951: Car doors fitted with safety latches to prevent door from opening during accidents
1958: ABS brake testing on motorcycles shows a 30 per cent improvement in braking system
1958: United Nations establishes an international auto safety forum
1968: Front seat belts required by law in US for new model cars. After seat belts became mandatory, a 50 per cent overall reduction was reported in the number of drivers per 100 vehicles being admitted to hospital
1969: British research results in widespread 55mph speed limits and drink-driving laws
1973: Side-impact standards required for all new cars
1974: First big lawsuit over safety item pitting Richard Grimshaw against Ford Motoring Company
1978: First jurisdiction in the world passes passenger safety law
1979: Road safety bodies begin crash-testing popular cars and publishing the test results to consumers
1984: First seat belt use law
1991: Volvo introduces side-impact protection system
2008: Tyre pressure monitoring systems are required on all new cars and light tracks
2010: Pedestrian detection system makes its debut