By on August 14, 2006

28002-rollover-accidents-2222.jpg The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a mission: “Save lives, prevent injuries, reduce vehicle-related crashes.” NHTSA also commits itself to “providing the most accurate and complete information available to its customers, the American traveling public.” While NHTSA’s progress towards its stated goals is (and always will be) a matter of debate, the agency has failed us. They’ve failed to tell the truth about ABS.

Modern ABS consists of a computer (CPU), four speed sensors (one on each wheel) and hydraulic valves (attached to the brake circuit). When the CPU senses that one or more of the wheels are turning significantly more slowly than the others, it decreases the pressure on the braking circuit. If the wheel or wheels then turn too fast (freed from braking), the force is reapplied, creating a pulsing sensation through the brake pedal.

When Bosch’s Antiblockiersystem appeared on the US automotive scene in the late ‘70’s, safety advocates hailed electronically assisted braking as a life-saving technology that would reduce the number and severity of accidents. Tests under controlled conditions seemed to support the contention. NHTSA and the insurance industry quickly embraced and promoted the technology.

Thanks (in part) to insurance industry discounts, almost every passenger vehicle now sold in America is fitted with ABS. NHTSA’s web site proclaims “…an antilock brake system (ABS) is a safe and effective braking system. ABS allows the driver to maintain directional stability, control over steering, and in some situations, to reduce stopping distances during emergency braking situation, particularly on wet and slippery road surfaces.” The real-world evidence doesn’t support their claims. 

Researchers have compared accident and fatality rates for vehicles with and without ABS. Other studies have examined the driving records of ABS and non-ABS equipped taxi drivers in Munich and Oslo. The accident and fatality data shows that ABS exacerbates the severity of accidents in certain situations. The taxi study proved that drivers tend to take greater risks in cars equipped with ABS (although the difference in collision rates was not significant).  In short, ABS may do more harm than good.

More specifically, the studies show that ABS has no real-world effect on dry-surface braking, ABS-equipped vehicles take longer to stop on ice than non-ABS vehicles, ABS-equipped vehicles are more prone to roll-over accidents than non-ABS vehicles, ABS-equipped vehicles are involved more often in single car fatal accidents than non-ABS vehicles, and drivers of ABS-equipped vehicles tend to drive faster and apply their brakes later than non-ABS drivers.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic safety has determined that improper driver steering in an ABS-equipped vehicle can send it veering out of control. In their tests, jerking the wheel (as if trying to steer around an obstacle) in a 35 mph panic stop sent ABS-equipped cars careening across two lane widths. (Without the ABS, the car skidded in a straight line.) This behavior may account for the higher roll-over rates for ABS-equipped vehicles. Other research revealed that many drivers don’t use ABS properly; they pump the pedal as they would regular brakes.

NHTSA, the insurance industry, manufacturers and engineers are all well aware of ABS’ shortcomings. In 1994, Dr. Charles J. Kahane published a paper for NHTSA entitled “Preliminary Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Antilock Brake Systems for Passenger Cars." Kahane reported that “All types of run-off-road crashes – rollovers, side impacts with fixed objects and frontal impacts with fixed objects – increased significantly with ABS. Nonfatal run-off-road crashes increased by an estimated 19 percent, and fatal crashes by 28 percent.” Kahane also concluded that “Rollovers and side impacts with fixed objects… had the highest increases with ABS. Nonfatal crashes increased by 28 percent, and fatal crashes by 40 percent.”

In 1996, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published a news release titled “Antilock Brakes Don’t Reduce Fatal Crashes; People in Cars With Antilocks at Greater Risks- But Unclear Why.”  In 1998, Leonard Evans of General Motors’ Global R&D Operations checked NHTSA’s ABS crash data and concluded “it is unlikely that on dry roads ABS can materially reduce risk” and, more shockingly, “ABS is associated with a 44% increase in rollover risk.” In 1999, the Society of Automotive Engineers reported that “ABS was found to be associated with a 51 percent increase in fatal rollover crashes on dry roads. For fatal side impact crashes, ABS produced a 69 percent increase for unfavorable road conditions, and a 61 percent increase for favorable road conditions.”

The average cost of an ABS system is $240. Multiply that figure by millions of vehicles, add the number of lives lost and the injuries suffered because of ABS' ill effects, and the true cost of this potentially lethal braking systems is evident. At the very least, NHSTA should launch an immediate investigation into the advisability of fitting SUV’s with ABS. Meanwhile, you’ve been warned: ABS can kill. 

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108 Comments on “Killer ABS...”


  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Yes, but ABS conbimed with traction control without question saves lives (traction control/stability control cannot exhist without ABS).

    It has saved mine.

  • avatar
    miked

    Ah ha! I’ve always thought ABS was the devil incarnate! Now I see there are studies that support my own personal experiences. It would be nice if this would get enough press so that at the very least manufacturers would let us choose if we want ABS on a new car or not. I’m not looking to take away ABS from those who truely want it, I just want to be able to not have it. I know if I pull the ABS fuse my insurance company would not cover me if i got into an accident, so I’d love a way to legally not have ABS.

    Frank – can you post links to those studies. I’m too lazy to do the research you did, but I’d love to read the source material.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    ABS brakes can only offer directional control during a brake induced skid. It’s entirely up to the driver what happens next.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    It may not help on dry roads as mentioned, but ABS on wet roads is a Godsend. We need some stats on that. I’m reminded of my time with the Toyota Tundra towing a load. Jamming on the brakes going downhill with ABS meant I had to modulate nothing, it just worked.

    Frank, these figures don’t work for me. ABS stops a car faster in most every condition.

    The problems with ABS (rollovers, etc) mentioned here sound like poor driver education for emergency maneuvers. Then again, that’s almost always the problem these days.

  • avatar
    imageWIS

    Yeah, but Jonny, that’s because you were driving Fords…

    Jon.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    On my motorcycle, I locked the front wheel up once. Scared the crap outta me.

    My next motorcycle WILL have ABS.

    On consistant pavement, a good driver/rider can outbreak ABS by a couple of percent, as they can threshhold brake.

    But once you get some dirt, gravel, water, pothole, any other variable condition, you need the lock & release of the ABS to prevent a lot of big problems.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    technology is not a good substitute for good driving skills. I much prefer modulating my braking or doing a controlled skid if I choose to over ABS. my current car has ABS, but it’s so light it still allows me to skid if I slam the brakes. unlike other cars I have driven with over-zealous ABS which drove me nuts and made the car way more dangerous. I think the main problem is people never get experience at controlled skidding, braking on slick/icy/snowy surfaces. everybody should do themselves a favor and the next time it snows, drive to an empty parking lot and practice skidding around in the snow. eventually you will be able to really handle it and over time it will become second nature. then you won’t need or want ABS.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    ABS brakes ARE conventional brakes until you lock them up. The brake skid threshold is the same on cars with or without so really it’s up to the driver.

    Also not mentioned, ABS brakes are excellent for braking on surfaces that do not have the same traction properties on both sides of the car (like when two wheels are on gravel and two wheels are on pavement).

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I seem to remember reading a similar article about ABS several years ago maybe in Car and Driver. ABS wasn’t as effective on gravel, several inches of snow and some other conditions.

    Up until 15 or so years ago, we didn’t have ABS as standard equipment on most cars, so on the occasions that I managed to invoke the ABS on my cars (that do have it), it was a little unnerving. With that I would take my foot off the brake thinking that something was wrong with the car. Then, stomp the brake pedal again, to prevent smashing into whatever was in front of me. I finally spent some time in deserted church parking lots getting used to the feel, but even now, it still startles me when it kicks in.

    As some one else pointed out here, inexpensive traction and stability control(s) won’t work without ABS. I guess I would like to see a switch, similar to the passenger airbag switches that could turn off ABS (and by default traction control and whatever else is linked with it) for the occasions I am on one of those less-than-ideal surfaces.

  • avatar

    Links from Frank (in a meeting):

    http://www.iihs.org/news/1996/iihs_news_121096.pdf

    http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/regrev/evaluate/808206.html

    http://www.accidentreconstruction.com/newsletter/jul06/ABS_Risks_of_crashes.pdf

    http://ej.iop.org/links/q15/C42GOGNbgobK0l2UPGaOwg/ejp5_6_008.pdf

    http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/esv/16/98S2O12.PDF

    http://www.edmunds.com/edweb/antilock.html

    http://www.iihs.org/news/1996/iihs_news_121096.pdf

    http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/absprobe.pdf

    http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/vrtc/ca/lvabs.htm

    http://www.iihs.org/research/advisories/iihs_advisory_17.pdf

  • avatar
    TireGuy

    This feeling against ABS has been persistent nearly only in the US, and mostly with reference to longer breaking distance on completely dry surface.

    However, as some have said already, ABS gives you excellent performance in any other breaking situation, and this is mostly where it counts. ABS even helps the driver keeping in line when the surface is different for the wheels. I myself experienced a breaking test on a testing ground in Germany. The ABS of the car could be switched off. The driver showed us the reaction of the car in the situation where the two left wheels were on wet surface and the two right ones on dry surface (this can happen in winter, or if the driver is a bit off the lane in the countryside). Without ABS the car went completely out of control, turning 3 times around its axis. With ABS on, the car simply stopped in a straight line when the brakes were pushed.

    Everyone can experience the effects of ABS in wintertime, when you have snow: Break with full power if you have ABS – and the car will still go straight and come to a stop, while cars without ABS will skid.

    Regarding Motorcylces, it is estimated that about 11% of people killed today would still live, if they had ABS – nothing worse than if you have to brake, and you fear that the front wheel will block and you might fly off. So people do not break hard enough without ABS, or will flip over. In a recent motorcycle testing event, we had to brake full power from about 50 miles/hr. The reference mark was the mark which can be achieved with ABS!

    Frank, if you fear to flip over: do not buy an SUV, there are enough editorials on TTAC about this. Or equip the SUV right away with ESP, the stability program, which will help you stay in line even if you just go too fast through a corner, and which is the advanced ABS system.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    imageWIS,

    It was in a Porsche 997

  • avatar

    Are these accidents the fault of ABS or the driver if ABS allows average drivers to get closer to the edge of the stability of their car without fearing it? For average driving ABS may come on now and then leaving the driver more confident in their driving, but in a very dangerous situation they will quickly outrun their ability to control the direction of the car.

  • avatar
    Glenn

    We need better drivers, trained to understand physics are not overcome by technological advances. Instead of idiots saying “oh, yeah, this car has xyz technology, so that means I can go faster” and then they go kill themselves because they drive past the physical capabilities of the vehicle, tires and road, we need well trained people using common sense.

    Not very likely, is it?

    I’ve read before that now that cars have such fantastic brakes compared to years ago, that everyone leaves braking until way late compared to what they used to. How stupid.

    My experiences? Well I can give you two.

    One. My buddy was showing off, screamed into his garage with a Chevy
    S-10 and was going to jump on the brakes to make noise and smoke (and leave some nice black marks) just for laughs. Drove right through the back of his own garage when the ABS kicked in. If only I’d have had a video camera.

    Two. I was driving my Prius along a winding road alongside a lake at about 45 mph (the speed limit, believe it or not yeah, I was actually going the limit) and this youth ran right in front of me with a wheelbarrow filled with yard trash. I don’t know how he couldn’t have seen me (I drive with my headlights on). My Prius has ABS as well as computerized brake assist, which means that the computer programmers “know” that we humans never push hard enough on the brake pedal when stopping in an emergency stop, so the computer recognized the fact that it was a panic stop from the short time it took to go from the “go” pedal to the “stop” pedal and essentially maxed out the brakes.

    It was incredible how short we stopped. I JUST missed the kid. Yeah, it was a dry road. ABS did not kick in to my knowledge, but who knows? As the saying goes “it happened so fast.”

    Had I been driving my “conventional” car with no brake assist (and no ABS), I know from 65000 miles of driving, and knowing how fast it can stop, that I would have driven right over the kid and the wheelbarrow too.

    As for needing better drivers, you only need come out for a ride with me any time of any day to watch the other drivers on Michigan roads.

    Going to town yesterday evening, a 17 mile run, I had the misfortune of having a cop pull out from a gas station behind me. He didn’t bother going after the guy who turned left across my lane RIGHT in front of me, no, he just “had” to go to town, right? No sweat, I’m at the speed limit.

    About 5 miles down the road as I crest a small hill, I’m suddenly aware that there is a car in MY lane except he is coming my way at about 75 (in a 55 zone) and I’m going 55, so that is obviously a closing speed of 130 miles per hour. I jump on the brakes, pull the wheel to the right, give the idiot who just “had” to pass another car on a double yellow line room enough to go by.

    Wow, miracles DO occur. The cop actually turned around and busted him.

    On the way back home from town, I had some bingo the evil clown driving 75 fly up on my tail (we’re talking about a 2-lane highway here) and get all upset because I was actually going the limit (the sign of an extremely bad, selfish and dangerous driver. In my 30 plus years of driving I’ve seen it all). He tailgated me for a moment, passed, then proceeded to tailgate the car in front of me SO closely (the 2nd driver was – guess what? – going the speed limit), flashed his lights in impatience, and was rewarded by the car in front slowing down to 30 mph. And why not? The Honda driver in front clearly was being threatened by an idiot wielding a deadly weapon. Or, hadn’t you thought of it like that before?

    That was 2 incidents out of about 6 that I saw in one 35 mile drive to and from town, and it is generally worse than that on my weekday commute.

    Perhaps a tongue-in-cheek solution to the idiots on the road is to mandate that ALL safety equipment is taken out, and cars return to 1962 technology, like my Corvair Monza.

    Steering colunn? A solid piece of steel ready to impale your chest. Brakes? Drum, no power assist, no ABS, no nothin’. Handling? Swing axles, rear engine bias, watch out for snow/ice/rain/sidewinds/trucks going by. Steering? The original “Lucy Goosy”. Seat belts? Whadaya think you are, race car driver? You don’t need any seat belts. Roof? It’s cloth, after all it’s a convertible, isn’t it? Halogen headlights? Ha. Not a chance. Air bags? I don’t want any politicians in my Corvair, thanks. Safety door latches? Didn’t you close the door?! Whatsamatterwithyou?

    This would sure cut down on the idiot drivers and their progeny.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    Steering colunn? A solid piece of steel ready to impale your chest. Brakes? Drum, no power assist, no ABS, no nothin’. Handling? Swing axles, rear engine bias, watch out for snow/ice/rain/sidewinds/trucks going by. Steering? The original “Lucy Goosy”. Seat belts? Whadaya think you are, race car driver? You don’t need any seat belts. Roof? It’s cloth, after all it’s a convertible, isn’t it? Halogen headlights? Ha. Not a chance. Air bags? I don’t want any politicians in my Corvair, thanks. Safety door latches? Didn’t you close the door?! Whatsamatterwithyou?

    LOL!

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    The reason the kid didn’t see you if one of the inherant faults with Hybrids.

    They are nearly silent and people are used to being able to head approaching cars.

  • avatar

    Your pro-ABS comments are all well and good, and the article clearly suggests that driver behavior under braking may be at fault (rather than the technology itself), but the stats say it all: ABS = increased risk.

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    How very strange this is. ABS appears to make the roads safer, yet my insurance company still gives me a break for ABS on my cars.

    I’m well acquainted with my insurance compnay and they are ALL ABOUT MAKING MONEY. Trust me on this, they’ve taken away a lot of my money over the years and they dole out payments grudgingly, if at all. Consequently, if ABS was costing my insurance company money, they’d take pains to stamp it out.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    yeah, but RF, what about ABS coupled with Traction Control?

  • avatar
    Logan

    ABS is only as good as it’s tuning… Try driving a FWD car with ABS and a big (stock) front swaybar in the snow with proper snow tires. The car was freakin’ useless until the ABS was disabled.
    I say the auto manufacturers should spend the $240 on driver training that is included with every new car purchase, instead of on an ABS system.
    Oh wait, I forgot, every driver in North America is already a great driver. It’s the other guy that sucks.

  • avatar

    Forgot this one (home of the 51% increased risk stat):

    http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/vrtc/ca/capubs/sae1999-01-1288.pdf

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    I have read the links and not all of it was “bad”… why where the “good” statistics left out?

    Also, most of the data is really old. Drawing Comparisons from the early/mid 90′s ABS units is not really fair.

  • avatar

    There are far too many vairables (like drivers!) involved to point to a SINGLE factor like ABS. It is a contributor, yes, but I wonder what else must be at play here? Vehicle weight could be another. Cars are getting heavier and heavier. CoG is getting higher and higher on average as well.

    Tell me why a very small car like an Audi TT should weight 3500 pounds? A car that size could (and should) be 700-1000 lbs lighter.

    As for the NHTSA and it’s mission… in some ways it would be better if a little Darwinism in action on the roads would thin the herd. ;)

    –chuck

  • avatar

    I drove Lincoln Town Car/s (with ABS) for an executive car service in Seattle for three years. With rain and wet/frozen streets the norm, ABS brakes were a great feature. In an emergency, you don’t usually have time to do much except stuff the brake petal through the floor. It was great to have the ABS system provide me with a little optional steering control, not available when all four wheels are skidding.

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    The AAA Foundation for Traffic safety has determined that improper driver steering in an ABS-equipped vehicle can send it veering out of control. In their tests, jerking the wheel (as if trying to steer around an obstacle) in a 35 mph panic stop sent ABS-equipped cars careening across two lane widths. (Without the ABS, the car skidded in a straight line.)

    So without ABS the car hits the obstacle, with ABS the driver can steer the car around it, and with proper emergency handling skills (i.e. not making a large correction) the car would controllably miss the obstacle. ABS is bad why?

  • avatar
    Glenn

    To quote: “Jonny Lieberman:
    August 14th, 2006 at 2:04 pm
    The reason the kid didn’t see you if one of the inherant faults with Hybrids.

    They are nearly silent and people are used to being able to head approaching cars.”

    I was going 45 mph, Jonny. Anything on the flat & level above 40 mph means the Atkinson cycle gasoline engine is running. The Prius was therefore NOT dead silent when the kid ran in front of me.

    Once again, it is simply down to courtesy and being mindful of other people’s needs. Being a mature adult, in other words.

    In electric mode, I don’t go flying around parking lots trying to scare people just for laughs. I’m careful and watch out since people might NOT be paying enough attention, or they may be hearing impaired.

    Is the Prius any different than a guy in a big nearly silent luxury car? Believe it or not, there is a little electric motor noise and tire noise in the Prius.

    If people think this is a problem now, wait until hydrogen fuelled fuel cell cars come about. I understand they are very quiet.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Small tires, low drag co-efficent compared to 19″ low profiles and a huge V* with blocky styling?

    Yes, you are quieter.

    And are you positive your gas engine was off?

  • avatar
    imageWIS

    Jonny,

    I was being factious. Of course ESP / ABS serve a purpose.

    Jon.

  • avatar
    Glenn

    A lot of vehicles are quieter rather than louder, Johnny. I don’t think the impulsiveness of a young teen boy running across a road (his parents were there watching and he scared both us and them badly) has anything to do with the fact that my Prius is relatively quiet. Teens just do stuff.

    Back to topic, I think that a lower center of gravity also helps to prevent cars and other road vehicles (read: stupid utility vehicles, pickup trucks and vans) from going greasy side up and (once) shiny side down.

    Some of the most idiotic vehicles out there are the monster pickups and Jeeps with outrageous lift kits. Death traps, in my opinion. Accidents waiting to happen, ABS or no.

    My wife (a nurse) and I came across a very bad accident near our home about 2 years ago (the same highway we go to town on – in fact, we were running to town). A drunk in an SUV had his girlfriend’s baby in the back seat, his on-frame SUV flipped onto it’s side. The drunk was pretty smashed up, the baby was thankfully in the baby seat and only bruised up.

    Had he not been in such a tall, tippy vehicle I think he may have not flipped over. But then, he also should have not been driving drunk. The fact that he endangered a child while drunk driving will gain him extra time in Jackson (prison) – at least, that is the law and I hope they didn’t let him cop a plea.

  • avatar
    dean

    I have seen several car reviews wherein the writer shames the manufacturer for not putting ABS brakes on as standard equipment. Obviously the superior braking of ABS-equipped vehicles is taken for granted. Whether its the truth or not, I don’t know.

    When I have a chance I will check some of those cites. But as mentioned above, it does sound like some of the data is pretty old. Like everything, control sophistication increases regularly. Modern ABS control modules are no doubt much faster, and more “intelligent” than earlier versions. Perhaps some of these negative consequences are better managed now.

    I think the abundance of safety equipment has lead to a complacency. Not only are drivers more complacent, but licensing authorities may be tempted to take driving skills less seriously, counting on engineers to design out the risks.

  • avatar
    MX5bob

    Steering colunn? A solid piece of steel ready to impale your chest.

    Steering columns are still solid pieces of steel. The “collapsible” column from the ’60s was a failure as a safety device. That’s we now have shoulder belts and airbags.

  • avatar
    Schmu

    not sure about that. tech manuals still describe my shaft as being collapsable, or break away.

  • avatar
    MX5bob

    Breakaway perhaps, but the one I took out of my first ’94 Miata had no means of collapsing.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    ABS is lousy on truly slippery surfaces. I have a quarter-mile-long, relatively steeply downhill, paved asphalt driveway here in the Hudson Highlands. If there’s fresh snow on it, I can slide all the way to the bottom (admittedly in a straight line) by getting firmly into the ABS: the brakes go on briefly, detect the sliding wheels, release, go on again, release…over and over again all the way to the bottom of the hill.

    Had a neighbor come to me awhile ago–similar driveway, similar situation–and she asked me why her brakes had “broken.” Said her Range Rover slid all the way to the bottom of her hill, “the car making an awful groaning noise,” whiule she tried to floor the brake the whole way. ABS.

    If I carefully modulate the brakes, I can stop pretty much anywhere on the driveway I want, given that the stopping distance will be somewhat lengthened.

    I’m the driver-training officer for our local volunteer ambulance corps. The National Safety council CEVO course (Coaching the Emergency Vehicle Operator) that I use teaches that stopping distances can often be longer with ABS.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    MX5Bob,

    I’m 100% certain that all cars since “Unsafe At Any Speed” have collapsable Steering columns. Maybe “breakaway” is another term for it, but no major manufacturer is going to open themselves up to a lawsuit like that.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    Maybe for the greater populous this is true. I can even see an increased incidence of roll over (though I’d really like to know if thats just SUVs and trucks) but I don’t believe for a second that ABS brakes don’t stop as effectively as power brakes. If you’re an expert, and know how to pump brakes like a god, then maybe. Most people, even those with power brakes, just put their foot down, and wait. In that case ABS rules the school.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    stryker, you either live where it’s flat, or where there’s no snow. Or perhaps both.

  • avatar
    a_d_y_a

    Where are the high quality articles on TTAC?

    Sensationalism at its finest. Sounds like Fox News. Killer ABS. Jeez. Sounds like the killer bees.

    Please dont convert one of my favourite sites into headline whore.

  • avatar

    Point taken.

  • avatar
    MX5bob

    MX5Bob,

    I’m 100% certain that all cars since “Unsafe At Any Speed” have collapsable Steering columns. Maybe “breakaway” is another term for it, but no major manufacturer is going to open themselves up to a lawsuit like that.

    Jonny, I’ll send you a picture of the steering column from my Mazda. There isn’t anything that would collapse. Breakaway at the universal joint maybe.

  • avatar
    tsofting

    I have heard of these studies, and I think the only conclusion that can be drawn from them is that drivers will (from time to time) use their vehicles to their full potentials, meaning that if you drive an old clunker on bald tires on a snowy road, you will be very, very careful, whereas if you drive a new car with ABS and skid control systems, you tend to feel a little too safe and go a little too fast. Being located solidly in the snow belt with months of winter driving in a normal year, I would certainly not have forfeited ABS and Traction Control on my BMW 5-series E39. The dude behind the wheel will always be the most important variable that decides the outcome of the journey. I mean, you cannot seriously suggest that it would be a boost to safety to go back to nose-heavy, RWD, solid-axle, drumbraked, non-ABS vehicles!

  • avatar
    ret

    To: Stephan Wilkinson

    I grew up and learned to drive in northern New Hampshire (pretty much the same climate as NY) and I’m really curious to know what you mean by “carefully modulating” the brakes and how that differs from the way you would approach the same hill using ABS? Do you drive ABS equipped vehicles with reckless abandon?

    And can you be certain that ABS is at fault? Did you ever try driving down the same hill during the exact same conditions with two vehicles that are identical but for the presence of ABS?

    I don’t mean to single your story out, but all of the articles posted (and the anecdotes in the comments) point to the culprit as being driver error or, at best, an undetermined cause for the correlation. Whether it’s lack of driver education, lack of confidence, or just rampant Luddism on everyone’s part, the difference doesn’t point squarely at ABS being the bad guy.

    There are situations in which wheel lock-up can stop you faster (e.g. – soft gravel or deep snow) or is preferrable form a performance standpoint (e.g. – driving a rally car or initiating a drift) but for 99% of real world driving situations, ABS seems the better choice. I refer you to quotes from the posted articles:

    “Involvements in multivehicle crashes on wet roads were significantly reduced in the cars equipped with ABS: fatal crashes were reduced by 24 percent, and nonfatal crashes by 14 percent. Fatal collisions with pedestrian and bicyclists were down a significant 27 percent with ABS.”

    “ABS confers the capability to steer a car while slamming on the brakes, but the average driver in a panic situation might not always use this capability to advantage, and might even steer the car into a worse situation than the one which the driver was trying to avoid.” [emphasis added]

    “Experts and insurance representatives appear to be evenly split on whether drivers or ABS engineers are to blame”

    “People who buy vehicles equipped with these systems need to re-educate themselves and lose those old ingrained habits. They need to go to a vacant parking lot on a wet or snowy day, and practice using ABS so they know what to expect when an emergency situation presents itself.”

    In fact, the AAA article is entitled Improper Steering Endangers Drivers With Antilock Brakes! I don’t know how much clearer the evidence can be. Despite Mr. Williams’ attempt to portray ABS as a “potentially lethal braking system” the only dangerous thing in these cars would appear to be the drivers. Why not complain that the 400hp engine in a Corvette is a “potentially lethal propulsion system” since a great number of ‘Vette drivers haven’t got a f’ing clue how to control 400hp? I’ve no sympathy for someone who wraps themselves or their vehicle around a tree due to their own incompetence or their failure to familiarize themselves with the characteristics of their vehicle.

    Honestly, all of the data point to ABS reducing the likelyhood of someone else killing me and increasing the likelyhood (if they can’t drive) of killing themselves. As long as ABS doesn’t increase the danger to me, I couldn’t care less about other drivers’ single vehicle crashes.

  • avatar

    I’m not buying that arguement. If people are morons (or incompetent drivers), safety systems must take that into account. You’re blaming the victim.

  • avatar
    lzaffuto

    Where is the data on new vehicles? If you’re going to base a conclusion on old data, maybe electronic fuel injection and computer management is a bad idea too… after all, so many vehicles in the late 80s and early 90s had problems with it.

    I’m not saying it’s not true, but I’d have an easier time swallowing it if the studies said “on 2000 or newer vehicles(6 years should provide plenty of data), ABS has caused more accidents than non-ABS equipped models”. Of course, then you have the issue of almost everything in those years coming with ABS, so it would skew the results. You would have to compare only models that ABS was an option.

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    Quote=:a_d_y_a:
    ___________________________
    “Where are the high quality articles on TTAC?

    Sensationalism at its finest. Sounds like Fox News. Killer ABS. Jeez. Sounds like the killer bees.

    Please dont convert one of my favourite sites into headline whore. ”
    ____________________________

    My thoughts exactly.

    What’s next, an unintended acceleration article? Exploding GM pickups? Don’t bother… It’s been done.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Ret:

    I’m not saying you don’t know how to drive in snow, I’m just questioning how much experience you have using ABS in snow. If you’re 25 and grew up in NH, probably plenty. If you’re 55 and now live in Socal, possibly none.

    All I’m saying is that driven as most people do–my neighbor who braked her Range Rover hard, terrified as it simply slid all the way down her driveway in the snow–ABS can increase stopping distances greatly on very slippery surfaces, since it simply constantly “unbrakes.” Whether this is the result of “driver error” is debatable, since many drivers are taught, “Do not back off or pump the brakes if you have ABS, Depend on the ABS to stop you.”

    By “carefully modulating” the brakes, all I mean is that I brake lightly enough to get some grip out of the tire treads against the snow. It takes awhile, but you can slow the car more and more until finally you can get it stopped.

    And yes, of course it’s the ABS that’s causing it. I can feel it and hear it. Have I tried it with two identical cars, one with and one without ABS? No, but last winter I remember having a Toyota Camry on test and I slid it all the way down the driveway (intentionally) by depending on the ABS, then turned around and went back up and stopped the same car a quarter of the way down the hill by modulating the brakes. (And no, I didn’t go down the tire tracks established by the first run, I moved over six inches into fresh snow.)

    This is neither a secret nor a mystery among car writers. I’ve discussed it with a number of people far more skilled and knowledgeable than I am. Don Sherman, for one.

    ABS is excellent in most situations. I think it’s great. Just don’t be surprised if your car won’t stop on snow, and prepare to back out of the brakes some.

  • avatar
    ret

    “If people are morons (or incompetent drivers), safety systems must take that into account.”

    Why? If you start making that argument you end up with things like automated seatbelts and daytime running lights. And don’t the test data point to ABS being safer in terms of reducing multi-car accidents? I may be arrogant to say this, but I fear the incompetence of other drivers a lot more than anything else on the road. As I said, if ABS keeps other a$$holes from crashing into me, I’m all in favor. I don’t care if they end up in a ditch on their own.

    Why do safety systems have to protect people from themselves? What ever happened to taking personal responsibility for your actions, posessions, and education? Shouldn’t our driver’s education programs make it a priority to familiarize people with the functions of a modern vehicle? Let’s take a look at that pathetic system which requires less skill and involvment from the participants than if you asked them to get their license out of a Cracker Jack box! Seems a better place to start than with a 25 year-old, constantly improving technology which is proven (by the very same studies cited no less) to be safer in most instances.

    “You’re blaming the victim.”

    It seems appropriate given the articles posted. Not to blame the victim opens to door for: “Oh no! Big bad BMW/GM/DCX/FMC sold me a car with a system that’s proven to be safer to everyone else on the road around my stupid ass, but I’m too much of a chucklehead to bother to learn how to handle the vehicle.” Look, I’m not wishing for anyone to actually get hurt, but when I read the studies cited by Mr. Williams, I don’t see “ABS is dangerous”. I see, “People don’t know how to handle ABS”.

    There’s a parallel with the debate over gun control. Some people would have us blame the ABC Gun Company when someone commits a murder with one of their guns. Well, this would be like blaming the gun manufacturer for someone blowing their own head off. I’m sorry, but talk about specious arguments…

  • avatar
    ret

    I’m 32 and been in NH all my life. Not as much snow experience as some, but more than a lot of folks. Regarding the Camry incident; I’m fulling willing to admit that some manufacturers need to retune their ABS algorithms, but the basic theory is solid. More importantly though, you were able to use an ABS equipped car to stop exactly the way you wanted it to. That simply proves my position, that superior driver skill is the more important factor.

    The bottom line (which I believe is supported by the cited studies) is the following. Rather than kill off ABS, let’s make sure people know:

    1) what it’s supposed to do,
    2) what it’s supposed to feel like,
    3) when it’s going to improve your stopping distance,
    4) when your stopping distance may increase,
    5) how well the car will/won’t steer when ABS kick in.

    Do this, and you will maintain the safety improvements of ABS and very likely remove the more dangerous instances.

  • avatar
    noley

    I agree with Stephan’s last post. I’ve done the same thing and found ABS can increase stopping distances. But most people have no clue when it comes to brake modulation, so ABS is probably good for them. And in some limited traction conditons it really does work well. But not all.

    I was on a one way dirt road in Death Valley in a rented Taurus that had ABS. Knowing no one would be likely to come the other way, I threw the U-Wreck-Em down that road with abandon, the ABS really working in every corner. It did it’s job and the car was very stable under heavy braking, but there was a lot more additional traction on the dirt than on snow.

    It a few real and practice emergency maneuvers on snow and rain in our since-departed Exploder the ABS was merely OK; the truck steered around stuff, but it definitely didn’t like it. Some of this was the handling of the truck, and our Saabs are a lot better, but in practicing this stuff with ABS I’ve come to realize that is really has it’s limits and I can see how people can get in trouble with it, mostly by over connfidence. I mostly tend to drive as if I don’t have it, and it’s there if I need it.

    Overall is it good? I think so, and I’m especially glad my wife and daughter have it in their cars, but it’s too bad that it requires some training to really use effectively. In fact, there are a couple of driving schools in New England that have courses in energency driving maneuvers and a big part of the courses focus is on ABS.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    This is why I don’t believe them when they say…

    Coffee is bad for you…
    Soda is bad for you…
    Cell phones are bad for your brain waves…
    The planet is warming up…

    You hear one study where these things are going to be the death of us all, and six months later, there’s another study saying that it’s not that big of a deal.

    “They” can just never decide. Fear-mongers are despicable!

  • avatar
    dean

    ret: it seems Farago’s “blame the victim” comment went right over your head. Hint: it starts with an ‘s’, ends with an ‘e’ and rhymes with ‘satire.’

  • avatar
    philbailey

    And then, there’s traction control, reverse ABS.

    There’s a bloke (a real bloke) named Graeme Fletcher that does road testing for a TV program called Motoring 200X, or right now it’s Motoring 2006 and the Sports Channel remembers to feature it from time to time, usually on a Saturday morning.

    Now Graeme’s a pretty good road tester. Restricted as he is by the fact that he, like all other RTs, has to toe the line on what he says about some manufacturers car or other, he’s pretty outspoken. But he has one bee in his bonnet that bugs me to death.

    He’s highly vocal about the necessity of every car being equipped with ABS brakes.

    Like most journalists, technically qualified or not, he insists that this automotive feature is a necessity – even on a car costing less than a good home entertainment system these days.

    And I keep saying that most ABS systems don’t do a very good job of actually stopping you in the worst of conditions and are phenomenally expensive to repair. In fact, I have a whole raft of clients that ask me to disable their ABS system in winter time and a whole lot more where the system has already failed and they definitely don’t want it repaired.

    To take a recent example of the cost of these devices, let’s look at a strange set of symptoms that popped up this week at our shop.

    A Ford Contour arrived that was putting its own brakes on and causing the car to skid, almost out of control, at about 90 Km/h.

    A road test with an analyser attached, showed that the wheel sensors all agreed that the car was travelling at 90 Km/h, but the computer control module was reading 70 km/h and was assuming that the wheels were spinning, as they would be if you accelerated hard on sheer ice.

    This caused the traction control feature of the ABS system to apply the brakes quite heartily and to continue to brake vigorously because the speed differential, betwen the computer and the wheels was continuous and proportional.

    This weird electronic gremlin didn’t happen every time, but if the ABS light came on, you KNEW it was about to brake all by itself – hard!

    OK, so now we jut have to replace the control module, right?

    Think again – a call to the dealer established that this particular black box costs C$5,400!!

    No I didn’t just add a zero by mistake – C$5,400!!

    This is about twice the value of the car, so guess what?

    We have another driver out there somehow managing to stay out of trouble on his new snow tires, just the way he did before ABS was invented.

    Usually, ABS, when optioned, adds about $ 400 to the cost of a new car. Air conditioning is usually a $1000 option.
    The value of these systems however, when bought as individual components over a dealers counter, will usually quadruple in “value”.

    The more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to go wrong.

    And the more stuff they’re going to go on trying to sell to you.

  • avatar

    ABS in my old Saturn saved me from accidents on two occasions, but on the other hand, before I had the ABS, I never got into those situations where I needed it. Now that I don’t have ABS anymore (the used Accord at 30% off was just too good a deal to pass up), I drive A LOT more carefully in rain and snow again. I often hit the brakes just to see how good the traction is, esp in snow.

    One big problem without ABS: if you lock the brakes, the car stalls, and then you have no power brakes or steering. My leg keeps learning better how hard I can push before the car skids, but I have had a couple of frightening experiences on highways because of this.

    This was a really interesting article.

  • avatar
    TireGuy

    quote Robert Farago:
    Your pro-ABS comments are all well and good, and the article clearly suggests that driver behavior under braking may be at fault (rather than the technology itself), but the stats say it all: ABS = increased risk.

    I think the point on the headline has already been taken. But apart from that, I am deeply surprised by this article, and especially by this comment from RF. Robert, you being in many regards positive about German cars, would you doubt that German carmakers would put ABS into cars if it would make not sense? ABS is virtually 100% standard in Germany, and I would assume also in other European countries. Statistics here say, that the first best life-saving invention in car technology was the belt (although many people don’t like it; perhaps you could find some statistics about people strangling themselves with a belt when hitting a concrete wall. Should come out with 100% more people killed by the belt instead they would have hit the wall without the belt [sarcasm]). The second one is ESP/ABS!! Not even the airbag, which is useful only if you wear a belt!

    So, I think the experiences here say enough: if you have ABS and need to brake, you do not need to worry, you just can push the brake, the car will not skid, and you even can still steer! And this is one of the further important things: in one of my experiences, I had not noticed that the guy in front of me stopped already on yellow, while I was accelerating. I had to push the brake quite hard, but it would not have been enough. But I could still steer the car to the left, and avoided a collision. This is not possible without ABS, as the wheels just go straight even if you steer for a turn, unless you dare to lift the foot from the brake, which rarely happens.

    ABS is a life saver – and do not quote old statistics from old US ABS Systems. I have worked 9 years for the 2nd largest ABS/ESP manufacturer worldwide. This is not about just selling things, but testing cars in dire situations, in Sweden on Ice and Snow, on roads, on test tracks – this is about superior safety and performance.

  • avatar

    >>>Is the Prius any different than a guy in a big nearly silent luxury car? Believe it or not, there is a little electric motor noise and tire noise in the Prius.

    On the highway, two thirds of car noise is caused by the wheels hitting the ground. (see http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2004/112-11/forum.html#eura for my article on road noise mitigation.) I don’t know what the comparative % is at city speeds or less. But I do know that mountain bicycles, with their knobby tires, make a very audible hum.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    I’m late getting to some of these comments (had to sit through a 7-hour long meeting today). I’d like to address some of the counterpoints made here:

    ABS combined with traction control without question saves lives

    I don’t know about traction control, but the research does back this up with active handling (which uses ABS). So why don’t they give use the choice of our ABS being active all the time or only when our active handling systems need it?

    ABS on wet roads is a Godsend. We need some stats on that.

    Yes, and wet-road braking is the only condition where ABS is shown to consistently improve real world braking performance, based on statistical studies.

    ABS stops a car faster in most every condition.

    Under test conditions, yes. Real world studies indicate otherwise.

    everybody should do themselves a favor and the next time it snows, drive to an empty parking lot and practice skidding around in the snow.

    That’s exactly what the safety experts who reviewed these data recommended: take your car to an empty parking lot next time it rains and practice braking to learn the feel of ABS. However, how many times have you ever heard this suggested to someone who just bought a car with ABS, or saw a PSA about it, or even read it in an owner’s manual?

    Are these accidents the fault of ABS or the driver if ABS allows average drivers to get closer to the edge of the stability of their car without fearing it?

    Yes.

    How very strange this is. ABS appears to make the roads safer, yet my insurance company still gives me a break for ABS on my cars.

    That’s because the insurance industry is one of the main drivers behind the proliferation of ABS. When it first came on the scene, they all jumped on the ABS bandwagon. Several insurance companies (USAA for one) have compared accident rates for cars with ABS and those without and stopped giving discounts for ABS because there was no discernable difference.

    I have read the links and not all of it was “bad”… why where the “good” statistics left out?

    The “good statistics” are all that have been publicized so far and they conveniently omit the “bad.” No one ever addresses the other side of that coin.

    ABS is lousy on truly slippery surfaces.

    The research shows that ABS can actually double your stopping distance on ice.

    I don’t believe for a second that ABS brakes don’t stop as effectively as power brakes.

    Under test conditions with test drivers on test tracks, that’s what the results show. In analysis of real world data, that isn’t substantiated.

    I’d have an easier time swallowing it if the studies said “on 2000 or newer vehicles(6 years should provide plenty of data), ABS has caused more accidents than non-ABS equipped models”.

    I would have included stats on newer vehicles, but the research only covers models from the late 90s and early 00s. No one seems to have looked at more recent data. However, if there’s a brake engineer reading this who knows if ABS technology or design has changed significantly in the past 6 years, please tell us.

    This entire ABS issue is similar to what happened with air bags. When they first came on the scene, the safety experts and insurance companies sold them as the greatest life saving discovery since CPR. They clamored to have them installed on all cars and in increasing numbers. Then after a few years, and after they started studying real world data on them, suddenly we’re hearing that air bags aren’t that great if you’re below a certain height or weight, or you sit too close to them, or you’re in a child seat, or… or… or…

    Now they’re making air bags that are less likely to take your head off or cause serious harm if you fit into one of those categories, and they publicize proper procedures to lessen the damage they can cause. Why haven’t they done the same with ABS? Why aren’t they letting people know they need to practice using their ABS before they actually need it? Why aren’t they showing PSAs that show the proper way to stop and steer an ABS-equipped vehicle? Why aren’t they telling the whole story about ABS?

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    I’m not a big fan of ABS, but have experience traction control systems that I like (such as the Mercedes ESP).

    RF, I thought the Killer ABS headline was clever, bring on the rippling six-packs!

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Ironic that picture of the Volvo XC90 was chosen, as it was for rollover testing for demonstration of the strength of its roof pillars, not for braking. The XC90 did fine, but roof crush safety standards would be the subject of a another rant, I guess.

    Ford and Volvo engineers differed on the importance of roof pillar strength, with Volvo saying stronger was better, and that discussion briefly went public during a trial of an Explorer that rolled over and crushed a passenger. The deposition was quashed, and Volvo now toes the party line. Sad.

  • avatar
    wstansfi

    Frank,

    Please don’t bring airbags into this. I’m neutral on ABS, positive on traction control and electronic stability control, and extremely positive on airbags. The only bad airbags are the ones that don’t go off. Sure, people can be hurt by airbags, but ask any trauma surgeon or ER attending and they’ll tell you that no seatbelt is much worse than having a seatbelt, and that that seatbelt only is significantly worse than a seatbelt with airbag(s).

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    I’m not villifying air bags. I’m merely pointing out that there were problems with the first generation of air bags, and once they determined that they took steps to correct it so this safety feature actually prevented injuries instead of inflicting them on some people. They need to do the same thing with ABS.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    ABS has its place

    One point I havent seen noted yet is that ABS prevents flat spotting of tires. If you lockup your brakes on a highly abrasive surface like concrete your tires are going to provide you with a vibrating car. Motorsports provides many fine examples of this exact sequence of events.

    For the winter I have dedicated wheels/tires for use on my quattro avant. I go and play in the snow late at night to keep familiar with how my car drives in adverse conditions. quattro IV in my avant utilizes bosch ABS 5.3 to detect wheel slippage and engauge the brake calipers at low speeds to curtail excessive wheel slippage under acceleration. Open differentials at either end of the vehicle necessitate a system to control wheel speeds.

    I find it more effective to use engine braking to limit the speed of my car rather than the brakes while decending steep snow covered hills. Winter tires & AWD allow me to drag my tires down an incline at a slower speed than the car is traveling at without the intervention of ABS.

    ABS is a tool which has its time and place. Without adequate experience and proper training tools are useless or even dangerous. Remember this country gives out licenses like candy on halloween. The DOT does not test for competency in use of ABS during an emergency maneuver. While ABS is required equipment, nobody is required to have any acutal experience effectively using it.

    I can count on one hand the number of times I have used my ABS this year. I even include the two times I squeezed my brake pedal progressively to the limit of ABS intervention while decelerating before turning into turn 1 at Watkins Glen. A 50 mph change in velocity in a very short distance on a decreasing elevation.

  • avatar
    Nels Nelson

    I seem to recall a report by Audi in the early nineties that ABS under certain conditions could increase braking distances. These conditions were extremely slippery surfaces such as black ice and also on roads with loose material such as gravel roads where ABS would prevent the buildup of the gravel in front of the tire. This buildup shortens the stopping distance if the brakes are fully locked. Audi advocated installing an ABS defeat switch.

    Anybody else recall this?

  • avatar
    qfrog

    Nels,

    Many Audis came with an ABS defeat button. My understanding of the rational is as follows. I believe that pressing the rear diff lock button by default disabled ABS. Quattro II did not use ABS to regulate wheel slippage. II had a user selectable vacuum locking rear differential paired with a torsen center differential. With the rear diff lock activated the wheel speed senders would send conflicting signals to the ABS computer. When braking in a straight line all four wheels have a nominal rpm. When braking with the front wheels turned there are multiple circumferences and as such varied rpm signals from inside and outside wheels. The locked rear diff could send conflicting information about which wheels were in need of ABS intervention.

    quattro III used torsen differentials at the center and rear locations

    quattro IV uses a center torsen differential and ABS.

  • avatar

    Stephen and ret: I live in Chicago (plenty of snow, some years, but few hills), and I pretty much always disabled the ABS in my cars for the winter. Maybe I’m just an old fashioned idiot, but I’m better at managing a skid than managing whatever it is that ABS does. I’ve been in panic braking situations in dry, wet, ice and snow, with and without ABS, and rational or not, the ABS just makes it scarier. (’94 Integra ls-se, ’02 RSX-S)

  • avatar
    Jan Andersson

    Living in mid-Sweden with 3-5 months of slippery roads every winter, I still haven’t learned to love ABS-brakes. But I used to like the traction control of my BMW E39. Back in 2003, I went on a job 150 miles north through a sparsely populated landscape, roads narrow, lots of snow, 10 degrees F, not very pleasing conditions. And of course the traction control went out of function even before I started. I travelled the distance every weekend for three months, without any chance to get a repair. And in the end it was only the irritating warning light that made me get that repair-I had no use for the traction control anymore.

  • avatar
    nichjs

    Lots of points about driving on snow here. Snow compacted into ice is incredibly slippy. It is the driver’s RESPONSIBILITY to both himself and the rest of the world to drive with due care and aattention. In the instance where an emergency occurs, ABS will serve to keep the vehicle in a straight line, and to permit the driver some directional control. So if you’re going too fast, you may hit something, but hopefully head on, where all the cars safety features are focussed, (yes, even from a pedestrian perspective) as oppposed to rotating about the yaw axis, sliding into a curb, rolling etc.

    As pointed out here many times, raw stopping distance is only a part of the situation, and happens to be the easiest to replicate and compare.

  • avatar
    discoholic

    What I find particularly annoying here is the argument that ABS increases the rollover risk: I think this is a direct consequence of people driving SUVs for no apparent reason. The rollover risk is high because you’re trying to go around an obstacle in a vehicle on stilts (and/or lousy tires). The rollover risk is a consequence of the height of the vehicle (and usually prehistoric chassis designs), not the ABS. An SUV without ABS would simply slam into the obstacle at high speed… is that better?

    Normal cars, however, don’t flip over as easily, so I am certain they (and their drivers) benefit from ABS.

  • avatar

    MX5bob:
    I have a 1962 Mercury Comet, when he talks about the steering column being a solid chunk of steel on older cars he isn’t kidding. There is a 1/2″ thick rod of steel that runs from the gear inside the steering box up through the column and has the steering wheel bolt to the end of it. Zero give what so ever.
    If I were to hit something in that car I’d get that full in the chest (no seatbelts remember), and if the impact was bad enough to deform the frame in front, that shaft would be forced back into the passenger compartment, and therefore into my chest.
    All cars sold today are designed so that specificly doesn’t happen.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Yes, the higher center of gravity make SUVs prone to rollover, especially when driven incorrectly. And since most SUVs now have ABS, they’re even more likely to rollover when someone tries to steer around an obstacle by jerking the wheel violently. However the vehicles cited in these studies were passenger cars. They didn’t look at the accident stats for light trucks, which is how NHTSA classifies SUVs.

  • avatar
    noley

    There’s another point here worth making. If all one drives for a while is ABS-equipped cars, and since most cars now have ABS, it can cause some unpleasant surprises when driving a car that lacks ABS. And you don’t need low traction conditions to bring this out.

    I was in a rented Altima last November on one of the approach roads to the Grand Canyon. The 2-lane road is fairly straight but has dips in it that can hide a car coming the other way. These dips aren’t immediately obvious, at least nearing sunset. I was running about 75 and the road looked clear when I pulled out to pass the Suby Forester. As I reached Suby’s rear bumper a car emerged out of a dip and it was obvious there wasn’t enough time for me to get by the Suby. The Suby driver saw what was going on and braked, which made it worse as I had already gotten on the binders. So I dove deeper into the brakes harder only to find the rears locking and the tail trying to come around as I got back into my lane. It was briefly exciting, but I drove on thinking how it could have gotten a whole lot more interesting if the road had been wet–and how it’s easy to take the presence of ABS for granted.

    Checking on line, I learned that ABS is optional on the base Altima 2.5 model.

  • avatar
    ukexpat

    ABS is not inherently dangerous – it is the lack of education of drivers as to how to use it correctly that is the problem. In fact I can stop quicker and under better control by applying the brakes just below lock-up, but that requires some skill. For the average driver ABS is a potential life saver.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    if there’s a brake engineer reading this who knows if ABS technology or design has changed significantly in the past 6 years, please tell us.

    Raises hand, I was a few years ago…

    Without getting into specifics… Go look at a computer from the mid 90′s and go look at one today, compare the speed of each. Anyway you know the point I’m making.

    Also the sample rate and resolution of modern wheel speed sensors is leaps and bounds better than the old. They are moving from analog sign wave to high resolution digital.

  • avatar

    I want to try this again…

    A safety system that works for well-trained drivers (TTAC readers) should not be deployed in a vehicle used by poorly-trained drivers when that system puts those drivers in increased danger– especially when the poorly trained drivers are the majority.

    I’d be willing to wager that the average driver has NEVER felt ABS pulsing underfoot. No wonder they remove their foot from the brake; they think something’s “wrong.”

    There is a difference between real world and ideal applications. The stats don’t lie. ABS is increasing risk for the majority of drivers.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    So… you have replaced one collision for another. So yes statistically rollovers and off-road collisions will increase but rear-end collisions will decrease. At least with directional control you have a chance avoid either.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    The studies show your chance of rear-ending someone is decreased if you have ABS. BUT, your chance of being rear-ended increases.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    I guess I don’t understand. If the chances of rear ending someone goes down with ABS, how can the person that is potentially going to get hit chances go up? How can these figures not be inversely linear?

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    A mix of ABS-equipped cars and non-ABS cars on the road mean there’s a chance that the person behind you doesn’t have ABS. If you have ABS, there’s a stastically lower chance you’ll rear-end someone. However, the chance that the person behind you doesn’t have ABS statistically raises the chance you may be rear-ended. (At least that’s what the results of the studies showed.)

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    Ok I understand now how you can figure that… But doesn’t that kind of prove that all people are better off with ABS rather than a mixed bag? I mean… well the ones that don’t freak out and smash into a tree during ABS activation! ;-)

  • avatar

    ZoomZoom:
    >>This is why I don’t believe them when they say…

    >>Coffee is bad for you…
    Soda is bad for you…
    Cell phones are bad for your brain waves…
    The planet is warming up…

    You have to pay attention to the source, and/or try to understand the argument. Most medical studies of coffee find that less than 5 cups a day is not bad for you, and in fact, may be good for you. The latest found that coffee has a preventive effect against diabetes. Soda (with sugar) is bad for you unless you have incredibly fast metabolism. And the evidence that the planet is heating is overwhelming. The Greenland ice cap is melting. Glaciers are shrinking all over the globe. Spring comes to Alaska about a week earlier than it did several decades ago. The claims to the contrary are all coming from people with axes to grind. In the scientific community, only one reputable scientist is questioning whether global heating will be a problem (Richard Lindzen, MIT). But he is not questioning that it is occurring.

    By the way, I have little interest in driving hybrids or electric cars. I love direct internal combustion (there’s no nicer sound than a Porsche), and it pains me that we need to start abandoning it.

  • avatar
    tms1999

    ABS is like Airbags. Hope none of them has ever to kick in. It spells trouble.

    But unlike airbag, ABS demands driver participation. In an emergency situation, you probably are somewhat at fault, taken by surprise because you’re too close, too fast or too distracted.

    So keeping your eyes where you want to go, and not staring at the obstacle what you want to avoid is key. Turning the wheel in a sensical fashion helps too.

    The average driver can’t do that. Heck, I’m not sure I could do that (and I consider myself a good driver, most of the time)

    With or without ABS, collision avoidance needs training and testing of those situation. Probably in some kind of defensive driving school, not on the open road.

    It’s good to repeat though: if you keep your distances, and stay alert when you drive, aware of the traffic and road conditions, anticipating other drivers’ moves, it is possible to stay out of trouble without ever needing ABS.

  • avatar
    ret

    “A safety system that works for well-trained drivers (TTAC readers) should not be deployed in a vehicle used by poorly-trained drivers when that system puts those drivers in increased danger– especially when the poorly trained drivers are the majority.”

    RF -

    I agree with this but, again, my prescription would be to improve the training of drivers. These data shouldn’t make us “dumb down” our cars, they should make us irate that driver education is such a joke!

    Why is ABS dangerous but – to use my example from above again – the 400hp engine is a Corvette is not? The average driver cannot correctly use the full potential of either one.

  • avatar
    Dave Ruddell

    I’d be willing to wager that the average driver has NEVER felt ABS pulsing underfoot.

    I wouldn’t say that’s true for people who live where it snows; ABS activation is not uncommon after a decent snowfall, esp. if you live on a street that doesn’t get plowed for a while. Of course, the first time I felt that pulse it scared the crap out of me.

  • avatar
    ret

    “And the evidence that the planet is heating is overwhelming. The Greenland ice cap is melting. Glaciers are shrinking all over the globe. Spring comes to Alaska about a week earlier than it did several decades ago. The claims to the contrary are all coming from people with axes to grind. In the scientific community, only one reputable scientist is questioning whether global heating will be a problem (Richard Lindzen, MIT). But he is not questioning that it is occurring.”

    I hate to go off topic, but I can’t let this one by. There’s plenty of reason to question how much Global Warming may occur, how much human activity may contribute, whether it would necessarily be a bad thing, AND whether or not we even know for certain that it’s occurring.

    Look at the real data. From somewhere like GISS or even out of the UNIPCC data and you’ll see that the measured warming is statistically insignificant. It’s smaller than the margin of error we have in calculating an average surface temperature.

    I’m not saying it’s NOT happening or that we shouldn’t be studying it. I’m saying that we’re about 50 years away from having sufficient expertise and data to definitively say ANYTHING about climate change.

    [/off topic]

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Calling for increased driver training is pointless and a waste of time. It would have to be legislated, and any legislator declaring themselves in favor of it would promptly be voted out of office. There are many things people “should” be–smarter, politer, thinner, more conservationist, better drivers–but the chances of any of that happening are…uh, is there a number less than nil?

  • avatar
    ret

    SW -

    Pointless? Maybe.

    Waste of time? Very probably.

    But the alternative is (yes, I know you’re not the one doing this) to argue against technology that appears to only be more dangerous to individual drivers while significantly reducing multi-car wrecks and collisions with pedestrians and cyclists?

    I must have missed something.

    BTW – I read your PopSci article on Serotta bikes. I’m in the market. Which model did your daughter get?

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    ret, e-mail me at stephwilkinson@earthlink.net and we can talk Serottas.

  • avatar

    Ret (off topic),

    It’s you against the entire scientific community here. There is a consensus among all reputable scientists that it’s happening, and only Lindzen is not worried.

    ret wrote:
    >>I hate to go off topic, but I can’t let this one by. There’s plenty of reason to question how much Global Warming may occur, how much human activity may contribute, whether it would necessarily be a bad thing, AND whether or not we even know for certain that it’s occurring.

    Look at the real data. From somewhere like GISS or even out of the UNIPCC data and you’ll see that the measured warming is statistically insignificant. It’s smaller than the margin of error we have in calculating an average surface temperature.

    I’m not saying it’s NOT happening or that we shouldn’t be studying it. I’m saying that we’re about 50 years away from having sufficient expertise and data to definitively say ANYTHING about climate change.

  • avatar
    Michal

    So research has found that drivers in ABS equipped vehicles drive more aggressively and take more risks, increasing injuries. By that logic we should remove airbags from cars as they make drivers think crashing is ok as they’ll fall into a soft comfy pillow on impact. Remove seatbelts too! Now there’s something that makes people feel safer, and according to the logic of the article increases accidents. Those crumple zones and modern construction techniques are a pest too. A recent Australian study found SUV drivers drive more aggressively than their sedan counterparts.

  • avatar
    Wolven

    Great Article Frank! Kudos once again to TTAC for bravely telling the unpopular truth. To those that want to call this “Headline Whore” type reporting… obviously, you’re just opposed to the truth getting published. PLEASE, don’t let them initmidateinfluence you Robert!!!

    It’s truly amazing how many people simply continue to argue that ABS is “safer” IN SPITE OF THE FACTS! The herd mentality of many Americans never fails to astound me…

    I noticed the lack of any current info on this topic when I researched it myself about a year ago. I wonder if the lack of current data has anything to do with the fact that none of the groups (government, insurance, safety “experts”, auto companies, etc.) that jumped on the ABS “safety” bandwagon want to hearsponsor any more efidence that they wereare wrong. Perhaps a fear of lawsuits related to deaths due to ABS?

  • avatar
    uninformed

    I’ve learned more here about ABS than anywhere else – incredible. I hope you will indulge me a bit – I’m trying to figure out if I can live without ABS on my 2000 Windstar and I’m hearing that I can without too much trouble. The dealer just told me he’d need $775 to replace the module so I told him nevermind. I started surfing the net to see how much trouble I’d be in when braking. Sounds like not much. Since I didn’t specifically see where any of you de-activated ABS on your vehicles…I’d appreciate hearing if you have, or if you would… pros and cons of my decision… Thanks for your help!

  • avatar
    nino

    If ABS provides no increased benefit in braking , than why does Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship SPECIFICALLY ban its use?

  • avatar
    Wolven

    Because ITS UNSAFE! At least in racing they’re smart enough to not allow B.S. “safety” features. Ever notice they don’t have air bags in them race cars?

  • avatar
    nino

    Are you aware that ABS equipt cars in Formula 1 provided them with a performance ADVANTAGE and only then was it banned?

    In racing, something that is unsafe, doesn’t NEED to be banned if it provides NO PERFORMANCE ADVANTAGE.

    That these racing groups ban ABS points to a performance advantage in its use.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Nino: Are you aware that ABS equipt cars in Formula 1 provided them with a performance ADVANTAGE and only then was it banned?

    ABS can provide an advantage when used under track conditions by experienced professionals. All of the test data support this. It’s when you put it in the real world with the average inattentive American driver who probably doesn’t even know what ABS stands for that the problems begin.

  • avatar
    TireGuy

    QUOTE:

    Frank Williams:
    The studies show your chance of rear-ending someone is decreased if you have ABS. BUT, your chance of being rear-ended increases.

    gearhead455:
    August 15th, 2006 at 11:15 am
    I guess I don’t understand. If the chances of rear ending someone goes down with ABS, how can the person that is potentially going to get hit chances go up? How can these figures not be inversely linear?

    Frank Williams:
    August 15th, 2006 at 11:22 am
    A mix of ABS-equipped cars and non-ABS cars on the road mean there’s a chance that the person behind you doesn’t have ABS. If you have ABS, there’s a stastically lower chance you’ll rear-end someone. However, the chance that the person behind you doesn’t have ABS statistically raises the chance you may be rear-ended. (At least that’s what the results of the studies showed.)

    Sorry Frank, but are you not getting ridiculous? Part of your first arguments was that ABS would increase breaking distance. The statistics you now quote shows exactly the reverse: ABS decreases breaking distance. That is why your chance to hit someone in its backside decreases. At the same time, it may be that people without ABS have then a higher risk to hit your back. But so what??? In this case it is their fault, and their insurance agent will have to pay. At the same time you did not hit anyone and do not pay. Therefore, ABS is clearly increasing your safety (overall, the risks from you hitting someone are higher than being hit in the back).

    Robert: driving a car needs training. Driving a car is by itself dangerous. Would you like to banish cars for being dangerous overall?
    Your argument in itself also says that if people are too stupid to use a great safety feature, the manufacturers should just not offer it. How serious are you????

    There are so many examples here in the comments that show how ABS increases safety by helping steering in breaking situations, and helping in any slippery situation, that I do not understand how anyone could still not appreciate the safety ABS provides.

  • avatar
    niky

    gearhead455:
    Raises hand, I was a few years ago…

    Without getting into specifics… Go look at a computer from the mid 90’s and go look at one today, compare the speed of each. Anyway you know the point I’m making.

    Also the sample rate and resolution of modern wheel speed sensors is leaps and bounds better than the old. They are moving from analog sign wave to high resolution digital.

    I’m beginning to notice this.

    My previous daily driver, a circa 96-technology Nissan Sentra had ABS so ridiculously over-reactive and crude that I almost rear-ended a taxi cab the first month I drove it. I was about twenty or thirty feet away, and we were at low speeds going over a rough patch of concrete. He suddenly braked because some idiot pulled out in front of him. So we’re in traffic, right? Can’t turn left, can’t turn right… I hit the brakes full-on and the ABS pulses so badly because of the rough surface that I’m an inch off his bumper when I stop. And this is from about 20 mph.

    I had another Sentra at the same time without ABS, and damn it all to hell if it didn’t stop much quicker than the ABS-equipped one, every single time, on smooth concrete, dirt or water. And it had drum brakes and smaller tires, to boot.

    But my current drive, a 2001-tech Mazda/Ford Protege with ABS stops pretty well. On dry surfaces, the brakes lock up under hard breaking and ease off just enough to unlock and come back on again. I’ve only invoked the crunk-crunk-crunk ABS sound by actually trying to. Even on track, when trail-braking, the ABS doesn’t kick in very often, and I’ve only heard it about three or four times in two years and over 30,000 miles of hard driving.

    I’ve test driven a lot of new cars, and one stands out. The new circa-2005 Ford Focus has ABS that’s so sensitive that it doesn’ t even “crunk” anymore. It sounds more like a zipper or machine gun in operation, and it gives some very short stopping distances.

    While I still have my hate and hang-ups about ABS because of the Nissan, I do believe that the new systems are lightyears away from the crude ABS systems of yesteryear.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    It seems to me that the problem is that not only do most people not know how to drive with ABS, they don’t know how to really drive – period. When ABS first was put on police cars, they found that when the officer were in hot pursuit, they would try to modulate the ABS, like the old systems. Of course, as soon as they released the brake pedal, the system started anew. Several officers died until they were shown that the brake pedal should be floored and stayed that way. It was the shuddering that made them think, they needed to release – in part.
    While I don’t doubt that the book Stephan uses to teach ambulance safety says it takes longer to stop with ABS, again my own-seat of the pants experience tells me otherwise.
    I can still recall being on a ride-and-drive in 1996 with an Infiniti G20 sedan and coming, almost at full chat, around a blind corner; there, traffic was backed up. I hit the brakes and kept on them and the chattering ensued. I also steered a bit, right and left. I stopped about three to five feet from the car in front of me, with the car at a bit of a diagonal.
    Another time, a BMW M-roadster slipped out from under me on wet pavement, as I upshifted. The tail started to come around on me – big time. I countersteered and kept on the brakes as the ABS kicked in. I stopped, with the passenger side, about a foot away from a Subaru, going in the opposite direction, whose owner had stopped for a light.
    I believe that any salesperson selling a car with ABS should ask the customer if they have ever experienced that “shudder” under full braking effort. If not, he or she should take ‘em out and show ‘em how it works. The fact that the salesperson was trying to save their life, would not only be good business practice, but might cinch the sale.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    What I said, Terry–without scrolling back to search out the exact wording–was that ABS _can_ lengthen stopping distances. It’s well-known and inarguable that ABS lengthens stopping distances on very slippery surfaces. It’s been demonstrated both informally and in tests.

  • avatar
    PERTINAX

    The truth about ABS AND Traction Control…

    Devices that allow persons to drive performance vehicles that don’t actually KNOW HOW to drive performance vehicles.

    Thes individuals should be consigned to the little four-cylinder people-pushers they can actually handle…

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Why you shouldn’t believe anything you read on the Internet: One of the posters on this interminable, inane thread, who professes to be a knowledgeable, experienced engineer, refers to a “sign wave.”

    Is that what you do when you go by the Burma Shave thing on Route 66?

    Stephan

  • avatar
    Scott Bain

    I have found very little said about older vehicals with rear anti-locking braking systems. My 1992 Ford Explorer left me 20 feet off a gravel road when I tried to brake hard during a ‘too fast’ aproach to a sharp turn in the road. I’ve used the same manouver in many other vehicals with success but this vehical did not act predictably. The front wheels locked-up way too early and all steering control was gone. The car didn’t noticably slow down until I bounced over a snow bank and hit a tree hard enough to shatter the steering box.
    Afterward I checked the road for black ice but there were only a few patches of hardened snow mixed in with mostly bare hard-packed gravel.
    Hey I know that I should really have slowed down a bit but this would not have happened if I were driving any vehical without rear-ABS. This engineering feature was designed by Ford’s liability attorneys to keep the car from sliding sideways. Remember that a sideways slide on hard pavement was enough to cause the top-heavy SUV to roll-over – even though Ford blamed there tire manufacturer (Firestone) for the problem.
    Solution: remove Rear-ABS module fuse from the panel and retest braking capacity in a slippery parking lot. Drive slower too;-)

  • avatar
    rodneystar

    I hope that what you are getting at in this article is that abs can be unsafe when used incorrectly. i noticed someone asking whether it would be a good idea to remove the abs system from their car and this is a worrying response.
    The idea is simple, locking your wheels during breaking causes a loss of control and longer braking distances whereas being on the limit of your tyres capabilities but not going past that limit gives you shorter stopping distances while retaining control. The problem is that people use that control in an erratic and panicked way which can cause a collision of some kind.
    I hope that the author realises that his article could be seen to imply that the very presence of abs in a vehicle is unsafe, and that this is a very very dangerous message to anyone who interprets it in this way and doesnt know any better.
    The real solution is to learn to use the performance and safety equipment available properly, and to be able to handle a vehicle effectively. while i hear people protesting that ‘well everyone isnt a race car driver’ i say to them well if we are talking of the subject of safety in a potentially very unsafe environment such as a vehicle travelling at speed, it is really best to make the effort to learn some basic ideas and how to put them into practice. It is certainly a more sensible option than throwing away an extremely effective means of improving both brake effectiveness and control and hoping for the best when the bad time comes just because some people steered themselves into a mess.
    This is one of those situations when looking at the raw data (even if it is accurate and relevent) without combining it with a bit of common sense is just not the best way to go.
    I believe that this article in the interest of road safety should be removed.

  • avatar
    sparker6

    it’s really interesting that i stumbled upon this.. i just bought a new car but didnt even think about ABS.. when i realized that my car was not equiped with it i kinda freaked. all i hear is how they are safer and will prevent major accidents. now i don’t feel so bad they arent in my car. i’ve been a lot more alert and safe in my car recently.

  • avatar

    I have had crash with Skoda Octavia with ABS. It has just started to rain, the road was bumpy and slight slope (down hill). I was driving fast. When I start stopping the ABS engaged immediately and stayed engaged till the crash. The problem was it was not stopping at all. I crashed with speed with which I was driving when I started breaking. I was breaking at least 30m. Well I am driving aggressively and relaying on stopping in the last second, but never expected total lack of breaks due to ABS system. I know this is the case when there is snow, but it was only rain. I believe the ABS with electronic brakeforce distributn (EBD) should be better. If I was without ABS I would have crashed again probably, but not with this high speed for sure.


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