The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Anti-lock braking system

An anti-lock braking system (commonly known as ABS, from the German name "Antiblockiersystem" given to it by its inventors at Bosch) is a system on motor vehicles which prevents the wheels from locking while braking. The purpose of this is twofold: to allow the driver to maintain steering control and to shorten braking distances.



Anti-lock braking systems were first developed for aircraft. An early system was Dunlop's Maxaret system, introduced in the 1950s and still in use on some aircraft models. This was a fully mechanical system. It saw limited automobile use in the 1960s in the Ferguson P99 racing car, the Jensen FF and the experimental all wheel drive Ford Zodiac, but saw no further use; the system proved expensive and in automobile use somewhat unreliable. A purely mechanical system developed and sold by Lucas Girling was factory-fitted to the Ford Fiesta Mk III. It was called the Stop Control System.

The German firm of Bosch had been developing anti-lock braking technology since the 1930s, but the first production cars using Bosch's electronic system became available in 1978. They first appeared in trucks and German limousines from Mercedes-Benz. Systems were later introduced on motorcycles.


The anti-lock brake controller is also known as the CAB (Controller Anti-lock Brake).

A typical ABS is composed of a central electronic unit, four speed sensors (one for each wheel), and two or more hydraulic valves on the brake circuit. The electronic unit constantly monitors the rotation speed of each wheel. When it senses that one or more wheel is rotating slower than the others (a condition that will bring it to lock) it moves the valves to decrease the pressure on the braking circuit, effectively reducing the braking force on that wheel.


On high-traction surfaces such as bitumen, whether wet or dry, most ABS-equipped cars are able to attain braking distances better (i.e. shorter) than those that would be possible without the benefit of ABS. A moderately-skilled driver without ABS might be able, through the use of cadence-braking , to match the performance of a novice driver with an ABS-equipped vehicle. However, for a significant number of drivers, ABS will improve their braking distances in a wide variety of conditions. The recommended technique for non-expert drivers in an ABS-equipped car, in a typical full-braking emergency, is to press the brake pedal as firmly as possible and, where appropriate, to steer around obstructions. In such situations, ABS will significantly reduce the chances of a skid and subsequent loss of control—particularly with heavy vehicles.

In gravel and snow, ABS tends to increase braking distances. On these surfaces, locked wheels dig in and stop the vehicle more quickly. ABS prevents this from occurring. Some ABS controllers reduce this problem by slowing the cycling time, thus letting the wheels repeatedly briefly lock and unlock. The primary benefit of ABS on such surfaces is to increase the ability of the driver to maintain control of the car rather than go into a skid—though loss of control remains more likely on soft surfaces like gravel or slippery surfaces like snow or ice.

When activated, the ABS causes the brake pedal to pulse noticeably. As most drivers rarely or never brake hard enough to cause brake lockup, and a significant number rarely bother to read the car's manual, this may not be discovered until an emergency. When drivers do encounter an emergency that causes them to brake hard and thus encounter this pulsing for the first time, many are believed to reduce pedal pressure and thus lengthen braking distances, contributing to a higher level of accidents than the superior emergency stopping capabilities of ABS would otherwise promise. Some manufacturers have therefore implemented "brake assist" systems that determine the driver is attempting a crash stop and maintain braking force in this situation. Nevertheless, ABS significantly improves safety and control for drivers in on-road situations if they know not to release the brakes when they feel the pulsing of ABS.

It is worth noting that the heavier a vehicle is, the more it will benefit from ABS. This is particularly true of vehicles with less-sophisticated hydraulic braking systems where fine control is not as easy as with the more developed braking systems. Conversely, lighter vehicles, especially sports cars with highly-developed braking systems without ABS can outbrake comparable vehicles even with ABS

Traction control

The ABS equipment may also be used to implement traction control on acceleration of the vehicle. If, when accelerating, the tire loses traction with the ground, the ABS controller can detect the situation and apply the brakes to reduce the acceleration so that traction is regained. Manufacturers often offer this as a separately priced option even though the infrastructure is largely shared with ABS. More sophisticated versions of this can also control throttle levels and brakes simultaneously, leading to what Bosch terms the "Electronic Stability Program" (ESP).

See also: car safety.

Last updated: 08-17-2005 13:54:39