ABS Facts

Hard as it may be to believe, the anti-lock braking system (ABS) was developed way back in 1929 by French engineer and inventor Gabriel Voisin for the airplanes of the day.

The need for ABS on early aircraft

ABS, in those days, was a creation of absolute need. Aircraft coming in for landings during those early years of aviation had nothing but their drum brakes to slow them down, which came with two distinct disadvantages. The first was overheating, which at the time, seemed to be an unavoidable consequence, sometimes leading to fires in the undercarriage.

The second was more serious. While the aircraft was coming in at a relatively high speed without the benefit of additional mechanical advantages, the pilots of the flying machines had to find that very fine distinction between maximum braking and the locking up of the wheels, which sometimes resulted in blown tires and destroyed wheel assemblies. The hydraulic fluids used at the time were highly flammable, and the flying debris of the destruction of the wheels led to many catastrophic hull losses.

ABS applied to motorcycles and cars

It was not until the late 1950s and early 1960s that bright minds decided to apply the same principles to motorcycles and then cars. The early experiments were of very high research value, even though the practical applications did not get developed until the 1970s, when both Chrysler and Ford started incorporating the systems, first on just the rear wheels and subsequently on all four wheels.

The results were immediate and astonishing. If you have ever been in a car with all four wheels locked up during a panic stop, you may have noticed in that very brief time that the vehicle's trajectory did not change unless it was deflected by some solid object. That is referred to as being out of control.

ABS changed all that and is saving many lives every year. The technology was initially applied to motorcycles, as it is well known that when a two-wheeled vehicle's wheels lock up, any and all stability is lost. Most of today's high-end motorcycles are equipped with ABS, giving the driver the control desperately needed to avoid an accident or reduce the severity of a collision.

How ABS works

The principle that makes ABS work so efficiently is that when onboard computers sense that your vehicle's wheels are about to lock up, tiny valves in the brake cylinders prevent wheel lock-up, rapidly pulsating the pressure exerted on your brakes. This allows you to concentrate more on where your vehicle is headed while you are in a panic situation, possibly avoiding a collision with another vehicle, or worse, a pedestrian.

Studies and mandatory use

Studies conducted by the Monash University Accident Research Center in Australia found an 18 percent reduction in multicar crashes, while off-road crashes were reduced by 35 percent. It was also discovered, to no one's surprise, that while traveling on paved roads, the safety factor increased significantly, as opposed to unimproved surfaces, where gravel acts like ball bearings and reduces the efficiency of the anti-lock breaking system.

The system has been mandatory in the European Union since 2007, but in the United States, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration had held off on making it mandatory because of inconclusive results, and perhaps because of the pressure of the automobile manufacturers themselves, as well.

In case of a problem with your ABS

ABS helps tremendously in the safe braking of a vehicle. It is, however, an extremely complicated computerized series of devices that under no circumstances should anyone other than a trained technician ever attempt to repair or modify.

When that light illuminates on your instrument cluster telling you that there may be a problem with your ABS, it is best to pull over and call a tow truck to take you to a repair facility.

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