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By Jim Kerr

Safety features have been offered on automobiles since the first cars were involved in accidents. A mesh scoop to move pedestrians out of the way of the vehicle was offered as an aftermarket option way back in the 1890’s. In the early 1900’s, electric lighting and electric starting motors were new convenience features that also increased driving safety; using a crank to start your vehicle engine could be very dangerous.

By the 50’s, car interiors featured deep-dish steering wheels and padded dashes to help protect occupants in a collision although many knobs and control levers still protruded from the dash. Seat belts became standard equipment in the 1960s while the ’70s saw features such as collapsible bumpers that reduced impact loads on vehicle occupants. ABS brake systems were offered on some luxury cars in the 80s and by the late 1980s, driver side airbags became standard equipment. It took until 1998 for passenger side airbags to become standard, though.

The mid-90s also saw a new electronic system introduced by Mercedes – Vehicle Stability Control. More airbags, brake assist, adaptive headlights, roll stability control, adaptive cruise control, accident avoidance systems and night vision are but a few of the safety features that have been offered in the current decade.

Unfortunately, many of these features have only been offered on higher priced luxury vehicles where the price of new technology could be a smaller portion of the total vehicle price. The vehicles that most of us drive have had less safety features installed as standard equipment. That is changing.

Toyota, for example, has made its STAR Safety systems standard equipment on all their 2011 models. The STAR Safety system is a combination of six electronic systems that work together to increase occupant safety; the big news is that even the lowest priced cars will have these systems.

So what are the six parts of STAR? It starts with ABS brakes, whose advantage is the stability it gives to the vehicle during braking while still enabling the driver to steer the vehicle.

Traction Control is the second part. A spinning tire has no grip on the road and can cause a vehicle can go out of control. Traction Control helps prevent this.

Vehicle Stability Control is the third component of STAR. Stability Control uses a combination of engine power control and brake control to individual wheels so that the vehicle goes in the direction a driver moves the steering wheel. Get into a slippery corner or try cornering too fast and stability control will help maintain vehicle control.

Parts four and five of STAR are EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution) and BA (Brake Assist). EBD varies the braking force on each tire as vehicle loads change. Brake hard and the front tires get more braking force than the rear. Turn a corner and the outside tires get more braking force than the tires on the inside of the turn.

Brake Assist applies maximum brake force rapidly for shorter stops. When a driver is faced with an emergency situation, they will usually react quickly on the brake pedal but don’t apply maximum braking until a second later. Brake assist monitors brake pedal movement rates and applies full braking force immediately if necessary.

The final part of STAR is Smart Stop Technology. This system will reduce engine power if both the brake pedal and gas pedal are applied at the same time, or the gas pedal is pressed first and then the brake. This has to happen for longer than half a second and the vehicle must be going over eight km/h for the system to operate. My big foot has hit the gas pedal inadvertently on more than a couple cars of various makes when I was stopping. Smart Stop Technology would ensure the car doesn’t try to drive away.

Safety is a key part of any new vehicle. Toyota’s commitment to making it available to all with the STAR Safety system is to be commended.

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