The Next Mandate You’ll Be Paying For: Brake Assist

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Do you feel the need for a car that brakes for you? Are you interested in paying more for a car that brakes for you? Apparently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency that tells us what kinds of cars we’ll drive and how they’ll be equipped – is on the verge of telling us that we will have cars that brake for us. (News story here.)

And of course, it won’t be NHTSA that’s paying for it.

We will be paying for it.

It’s called “Brake Assist” – and it’s a feature (currently optional) that can be found in several higher-end new cars. It’s a high-tech form of idiot-proofing, designed to end-run the problem of inattentive drivers by having the car pay attention instead. The vehicle is fitted with radar or cameras that have the ability to detect objects in the vehicle’s path. If the driver doesn’t react to the presence of these potential obstacles within a predetermined time, the system takes over and automatically applies the brakes. Some systems are capable of completely stopping the car without the driver even putting his foot over the brake pedal.

Cue broken record… making this technology part of the required-by-law package of standard safety equipment in all new cars will “save lives.” Which is probably true – but then, so would outlawing driving altogether.

You know what might really save lives? Encouraging people to be better drivers. Expecting them to pay attention to what’s going on around them. To be prepared to brake for themselves when the need to do so arises.

Ah, but that would be expecting too much – and besides, there’s neither money nor power in that.

Adding Brake Assist will add another line-item to the bottom line cost of new cars. How much per car, it’s hard to say – because right now, Brake Assist is integrated with a roster of other complex system in expensive high-end cars. But figure a couple hundred bucks at least up front – and potentially a lot more down the road, as the various components begin to fail and have to be replaced.

The average new car’s braking system is already a very complex system because of add-ons such as ABS and traction/stability control (which works through the ABS system). Like these features or hate these features, there’s no debate about the expenseof these features. Just one example: An ABS-equipped car has a part called an ABS pump. This is the device that pumps the brakes for you, in order to avoid the wheels locking up during a panic stop and so, avoiding an uncontrolled skid. That’s great. But if/when the pump goes bad – and this happens pretty regularly, because people tend not to get their brake systems flushed as often as they ought to and old, contaminated brake fluid is very hard on ABS pumps – the vehicle’s owner is typically looking at a $500-plus bill for a new pump.

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The Best of Eric Peters

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