Electronic live saving systems such as antilock brakes or airbags are reliable? This is what most of us like to believe - and what the industry says. Statistics disprove it.
Driving along a high-speed highway is a safe thing nowadays. After all, cars are more safe than they used to be with anti-lock braking systems, electronic stability programs, and, for the worst case, airbag systems, right? I admit, I also feel safer today than I did in my first car, a 14-year-old VW Beetle back in 1971. No disk brakes, no power brakes, not even safety belts, and of course no airbags. Compare this with today's safety standard.
Perhaps I should feel less safe. Data suggest that of all electronic subsystems in my little mobile universe the live savers are the least reliable ones. This awareness is based on statistical data from mandatory technical check-ups in Germany, but they could have been levied just as well in any other European country. The data are alarming. If the car radio is broken, one notices immediately. If an anti-lock brake controller has silently died away, one will notice only in a situation when he has damn little time to take any measures. Even worse if an airbag fails.
So are all these safety bells and whistles just Potemkin villages, created to dip into car buyer's purse?
I don't believe so. Statistical accident data show that despite today's much higher traffic density the number of traffic fatalities in 2008 has reached the level of 1950 after having hit an absolute high in the seventies. Since then it is decreasing, and the most decisive factors for this trend are technical safety measures within the vehicles including electronic devices. Again, these data refer to Germany but they apply to other geographies as well.
Apparently most of our electronic guardian angels are doing their job correctly. But each traffic fatality is one too many, and car vendors, component designers and all engineers along the value chain should bring their grey cells to speed in order to make these systems more reliable. After all, an accident could also hit each one of them.