A Wish For Brakes That WorkS

What's the easiest way to reduce accidents? Not get in one. It seems auto manufacturers are creating complex active safety systems that aid in preventing accidents rather than addressing the problem from the source. Simply put: our brakes suck.

It's obvious that American consumers are a safety conscious bunch or at least pretend to be when purchasing a durable good such as a car. But that's where the safety emphasis ends. It's been proven that driver safety program reduce the likelihood of an accident to the extent that most insurance companies will deduct insurance premiums after a driver has attended a driver safety program. However attendance rates of these classes are still not where they should be. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration suggests that inexperience is a major cause of teen accidents. This clearly indicates the focus of drivers' safety is off the track. As far as legislation and costs go, it'd be near impossible to force a nation to attend advanced drivers' education programs. If we as a nation can't change our thinking, then we can change our cars.

It may not be well known, however most cars' braking systems are not up to the task of everyday driving. And more importantly, there is little attention drawn to how important panic stopping distances are. The number of airbags (a passive safety device used after you get into an accident), fuel economy, amount of cup holders, and whiz bang gadgets seem to be the focus for most car buyers.

How many times does the average driver use his or her lane departure warning system? And how many times does that same person use their brakes? It's pretty easy to see why there are dimishing returns on safety with drivers' aids. After a certain point the drivers' aids will do more harm than good whether the driver is suffering from sensory overload or the driver is unable to properly operate the systems from the sheer number of them. You've seen technologically impaired individuals with a DVD player; imagine them in the cockpit of a Lexus LS 460. Hilarity ensues.

Take the 2010 Honda Fit for example; Car and Driver found the Fit needed 197 feet to stop from 70 mph. For reference, a Dodge Ram 1500 does that same feat in 186 feet and a Corvette ZR1 does it in 142 feet. According to the Federal Highway Administration the average two lane rural road is 12 to 15 feet wide. It may not sound like much but when a fellow driver decides to ignore a red light in front of you, you'll wish you had those extra 11 feet to spare when traveling 58.6 feet per second (40 mph). Some may argue that the Honda Fit is an economy car for twenty somethings and urbanites, a minority of drivers at best. But let's take a more in-depth look at this problem: the Toyota Camry and Corolla, Honda Civic and Accord, which consistently rank as top ten best-selling cars in America all have terrible 70-0 mph braking distances. The Accord, Camry, Corolla, and Civic all do it in 191, 182, 194, and 191 feet respectively. These cars fall into the compact and full-size classes and are easily seen piloted on any road and in your rear view mirror. Isn't that comforting? How many accidents could be prevented if the driver had a shorter braking distance of just a few feet?

Cost may be the main argument manufacturers will have against improving current braking systems. However there are numerous solutions to our predicament; better brake pad materials, better front to rear brake bias, wider tires with better compounds, lighter structures, and abs systems calibrated for better panic stopping distances. All of these methods have been proven successful on street cars. The research and development costs to manufacturers would be relatively low compared to creating brand new technologies and drivers' aids as these systems already exist and almost every car manufacturer has at least one car that exhibits excellent braking distances. And additional costs to the consumer should be minimal with a reduction of drivers' aids or additional safety technology. And besides, if the consumer is paying for these safety gadgets, the cost will be offset.

With each new model year, car manufacturers jam pack their cars with redundant and ineffective technologies. Before lane departure warnings, active cruise systems, and Volvo's automated panic braking system that did not work in a controlled environment (twice), drivers had to be aware of their surroundings and use their optic nerves. It is obvious that there are a large number of negligent drivers that need all the idiot-proof parachutes a car could offer. So why not make something that everyone can put to better use? It would be a greater good for drivers of all type. Even the best drivers in the world need to panic stop from time to time. If discriminating consumers can push manufacturers to create cars with better gas mileage, they can force manufacturers to create better braking cars, not just for car enthusiasts but for soccer moms and dads, for thrifty teenagers, for the elderly, and most importantly; for all.

This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins by whit of your eyeballs in our reality show, "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"