Active and Passive Safety at the BMW Group
"Supreme safety of the highest standard is a natural asset for the premium manufacturer. What makes our cars so unique is the overall approach we take in our safety concept" – states Klaus Kompass, BMW Group Director of Vehicle Safety, in describing the safety philosophy of the BMW Group. The BMW Group's safety concepts are always based first and foremost on reality. Precisely this is why BMW Group experts in accident research examine a wide range of real-life accidents each year, interacting with biomechanics, doctors specialising in accident treatment and prevention, as well as traumatologists in Germany and the USA, and naturally sharing their experience with researchers and developers at BMW.
The knowledge gained in these processes goes directly into new concepts for active and passive safety, where the second aspect of the BMW Group's safety philosophy comes to bear: Safety, as seen by BMW, starts with sheer driving pleasure, that is long before a possible accident. For the best accident is an accident avoided right from the start – an accident that never happens. And, at the other end, the concept continues on a long way, only ending long after the accident as such has occurred.
The BMW Group has always attached great significance to safety in road traffic. To this day there is not one single safety system in production cars which the BMW Group has not examined or developed, in many cases taking on the role of a pioneer, as in the case of the head airbag.
An exceptional highlight of BMW's approach in this context is the integration of precise driving dynamics, specific support of the driver and optimum occupant protection within one overall package focusing on a very ambitious target: to ensure maximum safety all round and at all times.
BMW Group safety starts from the ground up on the car's suspension. No statistics reveal the accidents which never happened. And indeed, we all experience incidents and situations even in normal road traffic which potentially might lead to an accident – whether it is misjudgment, unclear situations on the road, or adverse weather and ambient conditions.
In a BMW Group car the driver is able to take these situations in superior, relaxed style, a BMW or a MINI behaving the right way for the driver also under exceptional conditions and giving the driver all the benefits of his everyday motoring knowledge.
The objective of the chassis engineer in developing new chassis technology is to ensure safe and superior driving behaviour. For such superiority on the road creates the conditions required for relaxed motoring, smooth performance, and exemplary active safety. The driver remains in full control of his car, enjoying superior driving dynamics and safe motoring stability. And in the process he is supported by control systems handling particularly dynamic situations with ease and appropriate care.
Whenever the car reaches the limit, chassis control systems intervene actively to maintain the car's stability or to reinstate the stability required – also under adverse road conditions. DSC Dynamic Stability Control, for example, prevents the car from swerving out of control, for instance in an abrupt manoeuvre, by applying the brakes as required on individual wheels. BMW xDrive all-wheel-drive technology, in turn, likewise applies the brakes exactly as required and ensures a good balance of torque to avoid understeer right from the beginning and give the car safe and secure handling even in dynamic and fast bends. And other systems serving to enhance both steering precision and tracking stability are Dynamic Performance Control and Dynamic Drive.
The effects and contributions of these systems in enhancing safety increase to an overproportional extent when linked with one another. As an example, Active Steering in the new BMW 7 Series interacts with the car's DSC sensors. So that when applying the brakes with the wheels running on different surfaces, this intelligent technology prevents the car from swerving out of control by intervening appropriately in the steering. The human factor – providing appropriate support and enhancing the driver's supremacy at the wheel. Official statistics show that almost 99 per cent of all accidents are attributable to human error and false behaviour. So to prevent accidents right from the start, the first essential point is to assist the driver in the process of driving the car. Various driver assistance systems are used for this purpose and already make an important contribution to active safety, that is the avoidance of accidents, today. Such systems and concepts nevertheless still offer significant room for improvement and further development, while the various features and options supporting passive safety have already reached a high level.
Driver assistance systems relieve the driver of unpleasant chores and enhance his supremacy at the wheel by providing information, warnings, and help in taking the right decision.
Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go, referred to in brief as ACC Stop & Go, for example, not only maintains the desired distance from the vehicle ahead, but also controls the speed of the car in dense traffic all the way down to a standstill. And at the same time the system offers a proximity warning, optical and acoustic signals urging the driver to apply the brakes himself if, for example, the driver ahead is likewise braking very hard and slowing down very quickly. At the same time the vehicle itself is prepared for hard application of the brakes, again helping to keep the stopping distance short and, if everything works out, to avoid an accident.
ACC Stop & Go is only one of the many assistance systems the BMW Group offers its customers. Further examples are:
• L ane Change Warning giving the driver a visual and touch-stimulated warning of vehicles approaching in the driver's blind angle.
• Lane Departure Warning recognising unintentional deviation from the right lane and again giving the driver clear feedback via the steering wheel.
Other assistance systems help to improve the driver's perception and his overview of traffic conditions, offering him more information and allowing him to look further ahead. Among others, these systems include:
• The Speed Limit Indicator introduced for the first time ever in the BMW 7 Series and informing the driver at all times of the maximum speed allowed on the route he is currently taking.
• BMW's new Night Vision with detection of individual persons offering preventive pedestrian safety by recognising people up to a distance of 300 metres or almost 1,000 feet and warning the driver of dangerous situations. Considering that far more than 50 per cent of all fatal accidents involving pedestrians occur at night or in the dark (source: DESTATIS), such a safety system is particularly helpful.
• The Head-up Display providing information relevant to the driver in his direct line of vision. This minimises the need for the driver to take his eyes off the road and increases driving safety accordingly.
• Adaptive Headlights, variable light distribution, Bending Lights, adaptive headlight range control and the High-Beam Assistant offer a unique lights package ensuring optimum illumination of the road ahead at night, in fog and bad weather, without dazzling oncoming drivers.
• Like Park Distance Control, the back-up camera significantly facilitates the process of parking and manoeuvring.
• In the new BMW 7 Series the Safety Package is further enhanced by Side View enabling the driver to check out traffic crossing from the side in unclear crossings and road junctions.
Even with all these assistance and supporting systems, the most powerful element within the car remains the human being. And since practice makes perfect, as the old saying goes, the BMW Group also offers BMW and MINI Driver Training on virtually on levels.
When the worst comes to the worst, even the last millisecond counts. Particularly the last few seconds prior to an inevitable collision may save lives, provided these brief instants are used properly. Precisely this is why the various features and elements of active and passive safety interact within the BMW Group's concept of integral safety, offering all their benefits and advantages shortly before an accident actually occurs. Assistance systems giving the driver the necessary information and warning prompt him to act the right way and in good time, the proximity warning, for example, telling him to apply the brakes. Dynamic Brake Control is activated at the same time in this process, chassis stability systems stabilising the car and helping to prevent a dangerous rollover.
The sensors fitted in the car, in turn, offer valuable information in order to pre-set the car's passive safety systems, the electric belt roll-up function, for example, serving to tighten the seat belts and thus ensure optimum restraint and safety right from the start.
The particular skill of the BMW Group's safety experts is to perfectly harmonise and match these processes to one another, in this way gaining decisive milliseconds in the interest of extra safety. The objective of all these features and technologies, finally, is to minimise accident severity to the greatest possible degree, if the accident cannot be avoided in the first place.
Passive safety means reducing the consequences of an accident to the greatest possible degree. A safe passenger cell, safe body structures with defined crash zones and optimised restraint systems are the basic elements within each safety concept. The development and use of an optimum passive safety concept is naturally of utmost significance to the BMW Group, three-point belts on all seats, six airbags featured as standard, and a strong body structure with specific deformation elements therefore forming part and parcel of all vehicle concepts today.
To prepare appropriately for the future in every respect, the BMW Group has consistently enhanced and renewed its testing facilities in recent years. All vehicles are tested and checked in crash testing and simulation systems not only for their full compliance with legal requirements, but also with the BMW Group's own and far more demanding internal standards: To ensure consistent safety on the road the world over.
This safety concept even continues beyond the actual occurrence of an accident, activation of the hazard warning flashers and the interior lights warning other road users and improving the chances of being rescued. The Safety Battery Terminal, for example, reduces the risk of fire. And depending on the car's features, the rescue headquarters are alarmed at the same time the automatic emergency call is sent out, receiving important information on the severity of the accident.
Implementing such a safety philosophy calls for the significant involvement of all parties concerned within the BMW Group. So the engineers are of course always very happy to receive mail such as this letter from the Ukraine stating right at the top: "Thank you, the whole BMW Team". This BMW customer, after surviving a head-on collision at high speed, even wrote BMW from the hospital: "I only survived because of your car – so let me express my heart-felt gratitude for such an outstanding achievement of engineering."