Ford’s Curve Control a Potential Safety Risk

June 30th, 2010

Ford Explorer's Curve Control

The all-new 2011 Ford Explorer hasn’t been officially revealed yet, but the anticipation for the latest edition of the storied ‘ute continues to build.

Ford seems perfectly content to keep the final product under wraps while slowly releasing features the new Explorer will feature. The latest touted feature comes wrapped with the cutesy and marketable name of Curve Control.

Imagine for a moment that you are exiting a freeway at 65 mph. The exit ramp turns much more sharply than you anticipated, and you have that moment of panic when you think you might become one with the concrete wall.

That’s when Curve Control gets involved.

The technology builds on Ford’s current stability control system, using the same sensors to monitor how much the driver wants to turn versus how much the vehicle is actually turning. If the system determines the driver won’t make the turn safely, it can slow the vehicle by 10 miles per hour in a single second by cutting engine torque and applying the brakes.

My hesitation with such a system begins with the words “sensors monitor how much the driver wants to turn.”

I don’t believe any computer system can determine what a driver intends to do. I’m reminded of the story involving Acura’s Collision Mitigation Braking System, which can mistake metal plates in the road for vehicles and stop the car when it shouldn’t be stopped. In that case, the CMBS safety feature actually becomes a safety hazard.

Ford's Terrain Management System on the 2011 Explorer

Ford's Terrain Management System on the 2011 Explorer

I do applaud Ford’s commitment to safety, but I get nervous when technology attempts to take control away from drivers. A sudden deceleration and application of the brakes the driver didn’t expect can result in accidents just as easily as taking a turn too fast.

All 2011 Explorers will come equipped with Curve Control, but drivers can turn it off by switching the terrain-management system to the sand and mud functions.

Ford is going way overboard with safety features, as the Explorer will also have inflatable rear seat belts, adaptive cruise control and blind spot and cross-traffic alerts.

I think all this supposed safety technology will just lead to more complacent drivers who will develop a false sense of security while behind the wheel. Can you imagine someone learning to drive in a vehicle with these features, then switching to a vehicle without them?

Yikes.

With Ford’s Curve Control and Acura’s CMBS, I think safety features have gone too far. Would you agree?

-tgriffith

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  1. randy
    July 6th, 2010 at 08:58 | #1

    I had a laugh when I saw Ford’s ad for “curve control” because it is a standard stability control system function that is being falsely touted as having strange new abilities.

    Stability control systems monitor the vehicle for yaw rate, understeer or oversteer, and then use specific brake applications AND torque/power reduction to eliminate the over/under steer condition. The handwheel position and yaw/lateral acceleration sensor data are monitored to determine the amount of understeer or oversteer, based on the assumption that the driver determines the intended vehicle path through handwheel angle, and the yaw/lat sensor measures the actual vehicle path.

    Within sensible limits, these systems really work, and this one does too. Of course, if you hit a 30MPH ramp and 100MPH, you’re toast, because there is nothing that can keep you on the road in such a case. You can also get into situations that create such a high yaw rate that the system can’t counteract it, but in general, work in typical highway situations.

    I’ve also had a chance to work with active steering systems that are integrated with brake-based stability control systems, and these can be even more affective at keeping driver control. (Although they are expensive and can have some strange side effects on drivability.)

    Are these systems going too far in taking control away from drivers? ABSOLUTELY NOT! The vast majority of drivers don’t have the training in vehicle control skills to safely recover a vehicle under many of these conditions, and the stability systems often mitigate drivers control inputs (especially brakes) that make the situation worse instead of better.

    There should be no mystery about the falling death rate on our roads. I certainly don’t see any improvement in driver control skills. With the addition of all the driver distraction, in many ways, drivers are worse than they’ve ever been. The death rate decrease is due to vastly improved vehicle safety, including air bags, energy-absorbing structures, stability systems, and improved interior systems.

    Remember that stability control systems (with their attendant antilock braking systems) will be required on ALL 2012 and later model year vehicles. This should help to further reduce highway fatalities, provided that drivers are educated in how these systems operate and how to use them to the driver’s best advantage. Because of the speed that these systems react, they can even prevent loss of control by trained test drivers. I know that because I’ve found myself in loss of control situations that were prevented by a stability control system. They really work!

  2. July 1st, 2010 at 12:00 | #2

    “going way overboard with safety features” – wow…think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that about anything actually. When it comes to trying to protecting people’s lives, I don’t think you can go overboard. I thought there was going to be something substantive in this article – guess not.

  3. June 30th, 2010 at 20:19 | #3

    This looks like a vehicle with such appalling understeer problems it needs a nanny to make it corner why not design the car properly in the first place.

  4. tgriffith
    June 30th, 2010 at 10:25 | #4

    @
    Simply put, traction control minimizes loss of traction on driven road wheels. It does not apply brakes or significantly slow a vehicle without the driver’s input, as Curve Control does.

  5. jgoods
    June 30th, 2010 at 09:28 | #5

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s another step toward driverless cars. The more such stuff is added, the less drivers have to think and do behind the wheel. And what happens when these one of these nannies malfunctions, as it apparently did in the Acura ZDX?

  6. June 30th, 2010 at 08:18 | #6

    How is this much different than regular traction control?

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