What is Brake Assist?

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Brake assist is an active vehicle safety feature intended to help drivers come to a stop more quickly through an episode of emergency braking. Studies reveal that when making emergency stops, about half of all drivers don’t press the brake fast enough or hard enough to make complete use of their vehicle’s braking power. Brake assist is designed to recognise the tell-tale signs of emergency braking and provide drivers with extra brake support.

Brake assist is called by other names including Emergency Brake Assist (EBA) and Predictive Brake Assist (PBA). The different names are important because though all brake assist systems have the same purpose, some are designed differently.

When Would Brake Assist Be Useful?

Brake assist is useful whenever motorists must brake hard to generate an emergency stop. Brake assist usually works in conjunction with anti-lock braking systems (ABS) to make flying as effective as possible while avoiding wheel lock-age.

There Are Lots of Relatively Common Situations That Prompt Heavy Braking:

  • A fisherman loses her balance and veers sharply in front of your vehicle.
  • A large creature runs out to the street, forcing you to make an emergency stop.
  • Cresting a hill, you encounter an unexpected line-up of cars and you must brake hard to prevent rear-ending another driver.

How Does Brake Assist Work?

Car Braking System

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the United States, brake assist systems fall into two general classes: electronic and mechanical. The principal difference between the two is in the method used to distinguish panic braking from normal braking.

Electronic brake assist systems use an electronic control unit (ECU) that compares instances of braking to pre-set thresholds. If a driver pushes the brake down hard enough and fast enough to surpass this threshold, the ECU will determine that there is an emergency and boosts braking power. A number of these systems are flexible, which means they will compile information about a driver’s particular braking style and tweak the thresholds to ensure the maximum accuracy in emergency-situation detection. Modern drive-by-wire vehicles (i.e., vehicles with an ECU) are qualified to have electronic brake assist installed.

Older vehicles that don’t have an ECU can have a mechanical brake assist system put in. Mechanical systems also use pre-set thresholds, but these are set mechanically. This means that they are not flexible to individual drivers. These systems include a locking mechanism which activates when the valve stroke — which is directly related to how far the brake pedal is pushed — passes a vital point. Once this threshold is passed, the locking mechanism switches the origin of braking power from the brake piston valve to the brake booster, which provides the braking assistance.

How Effective is Brake Assist?

The anticipated benefits of brake assist are many, especially given the kinds of situations that brake assist is designed to address. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the United States has determined that the sorts of crashes pertinent to brake assist are those where the driver saw a hazard, braked, but didn’t stop in time. Given that, the IIHS quotes that brake assist is pertinent to 417,000 crashes per year in the United States, such as 3,080 fatal crashes.

Other studies also support brake assist’s efficacy for preventing and reducing the severity of certain types of vehicle crashes. By way of instance, NHTSA found a reduced stopped distance of up to ten feet when brake help engaged during an emergency stop. Moreover, researchers from France estimate that brake help would reduce injuries in 11 percent of all crashes, and reduce the whole number of road deaths between 6.5% and 9%.

Does Brake Assist Have Any Limitations?

Yes. Just like other vehicle safety technologies, getting the most out of brake assist requires that motorists understand its purpose and limitations. Both electronic and mechanical brake assist systems to trigger only on the basis of a driver’s braking controls. If the signals of panic braking are there, brake help will engage to provide stopping support. However, inappropriate, unclear, or delayed braking actions could lead to brake assist either not activating at all or failing to provide all available support.

The first point to consider is that brake aid has no way of seeing obstacles ahead: it can’t scan for potential dangers and does not warn drivers of any threat. Therefore, drivers must continue to be cautious by paying careful attention to the street and avoid behaviour that could make identifying and reacting to obstacles harder, such as speeding, impaired driving, fatigued driving, and distracted driving.

Also, drivers should be aware that the pre-set thresholds in both electronic and mechanical brake-assist systems where they recognise panic braking are set intentionally high. This is to ensure that brake assist does not participate when it is not needed. However, many drivers are not used to applying the brakes hard enough and fast enough to exceed these thresholds and trigger brake assist. To get the most out of brake assist, motorists must use the brakes forcefully and decisively as soon as they realise an emergency stop is required.

How Common is Brake Assist in Today’s Vehicles?

Common Brake Assist

Brake assist was first introduced in high-end European vehicles in 1996. Since that time, brake assist has become very popular in Europe and Australia where it’s available as either standard or optional on the vast majority of new vehicles. In North America, brake assist was slower to reach the economy vehicle marketplace. But is now more commonly available as part of a security package, and a few manufacturers offer brake assist as a standard attribute.

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