The automotive industry is responsible for introducing the world to many innovations. While not every technology on this list started in the auto world, automakers are responsible for taking the technology and making it accessible and putting it in the grubby hands of the general public. Some of these technologies have faced criticism as destructive to the social fabric or industry, while others have redefined safety standards around the globe.
Every car sold today comes with some form of Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). Designed to minimize braking distance and wheel lock, the aviation industry developed these systems before being brought to the consumer auto market. On airplanes, the new braking system allowed for shorter landing and take off zones, which increased the available time and service area of aircraft. The innovations made in the aerospace industry would eventually be ported over to the auto world where it would be seen first on the race track, and then in every consumer vehicle sold today. While still evolving, the anti-lock braking system opened the door to modern traction control systems available in most consumer vehicles. These innovations come at a cost, however, and ABS doesn’t have a perfect record.
While ABS can reduce braking distances on hard surfaces, such as asphalt and concrete, it has a less stellar reputation on loose or slick surfaces such as sand, gravel, and ice. A 1999 study by the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that ABS led to a 27.2 percent increase in stopping distance on gravel while a 2004 study from Australia found that ABS equipped cars were thirty-five percent more likely to be in run-off-road crashes. These stats point to ABS’s other function: maintaining control during a hard braking situation. ABS keeps the wheels from locking so the driver can continue to maneuver around the obstacle. On loose surfaces, locking can provide additional grip, but on most asphalt roads, locked wheels mean a loss of control in a skid. To account for the fact that people don’t always drive on freshly paved streets, some manufacturers have included an off-road setting that disables the ABS.