30
Aug
07

Adjustable pedals can be vital

System allows safe distance from airbag. This column takes an occasional look at new vehicle-safety technology — how it works and interacts with users.

Allan Lamb and Bob McHugh, Special to the Province

It’s not offered by every auto-manufacturer and you won’t find it under the list of safety features offered.

Yet, this feature could potentially save you, or someone close to you, from severe or potentially life-threatening injuries in a collision — adjustable pedals!

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It has to do with the driver-side airbag, which has saved thousands of people from severe head and chest injuries or loss of life.

Airbags, however, do deploy with considerable force in a collision, they can be the cause of injuries and should be treated with respect.

The introduction of second-generation airbags in 1998 has reduced the number of injuries caused by airbags

Advanced systems will deploy (or choose not to deploy) in two or more levels of intensity, depending on factors such as vehicle speed, seatbelt use and the seat position of the driver.

However, regardless of the type of airbag that’s in your vehicle, it’s recommended that the driver’s chest is at least 25 centimetres from that airbag module in the centre of the steering wheel.

And, yes, it’s even more import to heed this recommendation if you happen to drive an older vehicle with a first-generation airbag.

Enter the adjustable pedals. Although sold as a comfort feature, there is also a clandestine safety benefit to having adjustable pedals — specifically for drivers who tend to sit too close to the steering wheel in order to reach the brake and gas pedals.

The concept wasn’t new, but Ford was the first mainstream automaker to offer adjustable pedals on a production vehicle — the 1999 model years Ford Expedition.

Availability was expanded to Lincoln, Mercury and other Ford product the following year, generally as a low-cost option.

The adjustable-pedal system is a sealed unit under the instrument panel.

It uses a small electric motor, a positive-engagement screw mechanism and an encased cable.

Both the brake and gas pedals move horizontally up to eight cm (three inches) toward the driver.

And to its credit, Ford offered this technology to other auto manufacturers.

The photo at left was taken inside the new Ford Taurus X, next week’s First Steer new-vehicle review.

The adjustable-pedal option is a simple toggle switch is on the dash to the left of the steering column.

The pedal position (in addition to seat and mirror adjustments) can also be saved in a driver memory feature, which is handy to have if there’s more than one regular user.

The driving position in every vehicle is different. It’s a bit like buying a pair of shoes — you have to shop around and try different types to get one that fits well.

Other optional features that make it easier to find that ideal driving position are a telescopic steer-

ing column and height adjustable seats.

In addition to moving the driver seat rearward, in order to be at least 25 cm from the airbag module, Transport Canada also recommends that you position the steering wheel down in a lower position.

This points the airbag toward the breastbone, instead of the head

and neck, and reduces the risk of injury.

One final note: Hand position on the steering wheel is also important.

The one-handed top on the wheel grip is a bad habit that should be avoided. In fact, putting anything between you and an airbag is not a good idea, while you’re driving.

Allan Lamb is the executive director of the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation and Bob McHugh is a freelance automotive journalist.

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