DETROIT-Makers of antilock brakes are developing vehicle control systems that make antilock braking systems (ABS) seem primitive: They activate a car's brakes without any action by the driver. ITT Automotive's electronic chassis control system has sensors and an on-board computer that use the brakes to keep a vehicle under control ``anytime you're up at the limits of adhesion to the road,'' said Timothy D. Leuliette, president of ITT Corp.'s subsidiary.
In other words, your car senses it's on the verge of a skid and hits the brakes without consulting you.
The sensors ``feel'' the forces affecting the car's wheels and its movement in relation to its vertical axis. The computer controls pressure to the brake on each wheel independently.
It might apply slight pressure to a single wheel, or varying pressure in a complex series of actions on any combination of wheels, Mr. Leuliette said.
A videotape of ITT tests shows a car without the system losing control as its driver tries to turn on packed snow and ice tracks. A car with the system seems to easily handle slalom maneuvers on ice.
At this point, it's hard to say how much such systems would add to a car's price, but Mr. Leuliette said he expected costs would follow the same pattern as antilock brakes-they've gotten cheaper as more were produced.
Manufacturers have made ABS systems standard on many models. As options, they generally are priced in the $500-$700 range.
Consumers probably will get their first crack at the ITT handling system in 1996.
Robert Bosch GmbH, a German company that is another major ABS supplier, is developing a similar product with Mercedes-Benz, which plans to offer a handling system on some of its more costly models in Europe in mid-1995 and in the U.S. market in 1996.
Both companies stress the safety benefits of such devices. A Mercedes official said the handling system could be ``the most significant accident avoidance development'' since antilock brakes.
However, a recent study by the car insurance industry's Highway Loss Data Institute raised questions about the benefits of ABS. Its analysis of 95,000 insurance claims found no difference in accident rates between similar cars with and without the system.
Brian O'Neill, the institute's president, said he's afraid features like ABS can seduce drivers into driving or turning faster than they should.
Mr. McKesson is an Associated Press auto writer.