Playing Safe

Audi has long led the way in vehicle safety and driver assistance systems.

Audi’s history is one of constantly pushing the envelope and striving for improvement – better, lighter, faster and more efficient. Safety too has benefited from the brand’s relentless, no compromise approach – to the point where safety- and driver-assistance systems have become an integral but silent companion.

29 October, 2016

Vehicle safety is much like life insurance. It’s one aspect of your car that you really don’t ever want to test, but you like to know it’s there and you want to know it’s the best. The vehicle specification tells you it has eight airbags, but actually counting them isn’t high on your list of priorities. As long as they deploy instantly should the need ever arise, that’s all that is of importance.

For Audi, the pursuit of safety has always been as important as its pursuit of performance, though perhaps not such an exciting talking point for customers. Before crash testing was an automotive staple, Audi and its engineers were already pushing the limits, in 1938 literally pushing a small DKW F7 sedan (a precursor to modern Audis) down a hill, causing it to roll to demonstrate its safety and strength. When it came to a stop its engine was still running and its body was relatively undamaged, and so began a never-ending hunt for ever greater safety for the driver and occupants of its cars.

Crumple zones were incorporated into vehicles as early as 1958 in models such as the NSU Prinz (another Audi forbear), while actual crash test dummies first appeared in the development work on the NSU Ro 80 and the Audi 100 to simulate the effects of accidents on the human body.

The first crash test hall inaugurated in Ingolstadt in 1970 remains in use to this day, albeit modified over the years, while countless other centres have been developed for the brand to continue the ever-more complicated research. More than 200 specialists are employed in the area and some 20,000 crash tests are carried out each month testing the myriad systems employed in today’s Audi vehicles.Indeed for Audi, the continued development of safety, performance and efficiency have always gone hand in hand. Introduced in 1986, one patented Audi innovation called the ‘Procon-ten’ significantly reduced the driver’s risk of head injury. The name, derived from programmed contraction and tension, worked by pulling back the steering wheel and tensioning the seatbelt in a frontal collision by displacing the engine toward the passenger compartment with steel cables and deflection pulleys. So efficient was it that the Procon-ten system was only discontinued after the introduction of airbags in all Audi models.


In 1994, the Audi Space Frame (ASF) revolutionised vehicle construction methods, drastically reducing vehicle weight but without any compromise to strength or safety. This construction ethos continues today and with Audi ultra (the use of lightweight materials and construction), produces vehicles that continue to get lighter, stronger, more powerful and more efficient.

Of course, the unveiling of quattro permanent all-wheel drive in 1980 was one of the great automotive game changers, bestowing supernatural handling on Audi’s cars to the point that they completely dominated world rallying and forced rule changes in other motorsport disciplines to give other manufacturers a fighting chance.

The by-product of this incredible grip and handing was, of course, one of tremendous safety in treacherous conditions – an attribute that is synonymous with the brand both on and off the race track.

Today, Audi engineering is holistically managed, mechanical and electronics experts linking complex systems to provide warning of potential issues right through to intervention and preventative measures. Satellite navigation helps engines operate efficiently and tiny sensors not only assist in traffic jams but help the driver avoid hazards and accidents.

So not only will an Audi’s structural and mechanical engineering protect its occupants in an accident, its electronic control systems make it safer to drive while its monitoring systems work at not having an accident in the first place.The acronyms and names are familiar enough, but what exactly do these silent assistants actually do to enhance our driving pleasure and safety?  

Adaptive Cruise Control (with Stop & Go) keeps the car a safe distance from the vehicle in front, a distance that can be varied to suit driving conditions with the press of a button. Constantly monitoring the vehicle in front, desired distanced is maintained, even if said car should brake unexpectedly. The system will even bring the car to a complete stop before starting off again.

Traffic Jam Assist, as the name suggests, eases the frustrations of gridlock traffic by simply following the cars ahead with the vehicle’s electronics managing the annoyance of stop-start traffic congestion. Sensors follow the road markings as well as detecting obstructions and only cuts out when speeds reach 65km/h or sharp corners are encountered.

Audi Turn Assist is as simple as flicking on an indicator, yet its importance is significant. That simple act, at speeds between two and 10km/h, commands the electronics to check oncoming traffic and if it decides turning across traffic is dangerous, it stops the car before it even moves out of the lane.

Audi’s Rear Cross Traffic Assistant works in a similar vein, detecting vehicles about to cross behind your vehicle as you attempt to reverse from a parking spot, sending a visual and audible or even physical warning to the driver.

Of course safety doesn’t end when the car is stationary. Audi Exit Warning quite literally has your back, sensing approaching traffic or even bicycles when an occupant opens the door, warning them with a bright red LED light to stop and check.

Collision Avoidance Assistant comes into play when the car’s radar and video camera spots an object in the car’s intended path, a radar sensor calculating in micro-seconds a safe way around it that will not interfere with traffic or put the occupants in danger. The driver also gets a warning and, in the time it takes to move the steering wheel, the system supports the driver to steer the vehicle around the problem. Drivers stay unflustered, the car maintains its dignity and balance – issue averted.


Active Lane Assist quite literally helps keep the car in its lane even when the driver becomes distracted or drowsy by recognising road markings and making gentle, corrective steering movements. Drivers can even choose the intervention level, dialling the warning levels up or back depending on the level of assistance required.

Audi’s Side Assist operates on a similar principle, working above 30km/h. Should the sensors detect another vehicle alongside but slightly out of the driver’s field of vision, it flashes a warning signal in the exterior mirror – enough to catch the peripheral vision of the driver and avoid a potentially dangerous lane change.

Audi Attention Assist uses electronics developed to monitor driver steering input and pedal use to detect the telltale signs of drowsiness and react accordingly. An instrument panel warning is the first ‘wake up call’ and is accompanied by an audible warning. It does not, however, make drivers a cup of coffee, but the effect is to perhaps make them think to stop and seek one out.


Lighting is yet another area in which Audi leads the way, the development of Matrix LED headlights, originally debuted on the Audi A8, once again changing the way automotive technology is used in a real-life environment. Initially developed and continuously refined by the brand for its long-distance race cars, Audi’s lighting advancements have proved invaluable at turning night into day - particularly important at more than 300km/h, but no less so in daily travel. 

Developments have been so profound that they effectively put conventional high beam lights out of business by ‘seeing’ vehicles in front and throwing light around them rather than through them, guaranteeing no-one is blinded by headlight glare.

In combination with night vision, the lights also monitor the road via the satellite navigation system and are able to detect and highlight pedestrians beside the road that are liable to move into the path of the vehicle.

Even indicators and how the light performs has been revolutionised by Audi, with light literally travelling in the direction of the turn, visually reinforcing in the mind of a following driver which way you intend to turn.The latest innovation is laser light – employed not only in race cars but in the R8 LMX. It is able to illuminate the road up to 500 metres ahead – scuttling conventional wisdom where lighting is concerned.

Predictive Efficiency Assistant, as the name suggests, is a system design to assist the driver in extracting the greatest efficiency from the vehicle. The car’s engine management electronics link to the satellite navigation to monitor the road ahead – noting gradients, bends and speed signs not yet visible to the driver to plot the most efficient means of proceeding. It then advises the driver, via instrument panel messages, on the best way to save fuel without compromising driving enjoyment or progress. A little momentum and judicious throttle use for the climb ahead, or ease into coast mode with intelligent freewheeling for a coming descent. Or warning the driver that they are approaching a slower speed limit, giving them time to ease off the throttle rather than dive for the brakes when the speed sign comes into view.

Pre Sense City is a driver’s spare pair of eyes, a camera constantly scanning the road up to 100 metres ahead, looking for vehicles or pedestrians that could pose hazards should they cross into your path. Drivers are warned of potential obstacles with increasingly intrusive signals if an obstacle is identified, ultimately applying emergency braking should the driver fail to respond.