We've all faced that horrifying moment of having to slam on your brakes. Perhaps a neighborhood cat darted in front of your car, or maybe the vehicle in front of you came to an unexpected stop. Maybe the traffic signal turned yellow at the worst moment, or maybe the person who should have stopped on a red just sailed through the intersection, right in your path. Whatever the reason, you only have one chance to mash that brake pedal to avoid serious consequences; if you mess up, and if your foot accidentally hits the accelerator in a moment of panic, the results could be dire.

Brake override systems are taking the panic factor out of that decisive moment. When the brake pedal and the accelerator are pressed at the same time, a vehicle with brake override technology will give preference to the brake, preventing the car from lurching forward with a burst of acceleration. Initially found on the BMW 750 In the late 1980s, brake override systems have grown increasingly common on all kinds of standard-model cars. In fact, federal regulators may soon require all new vehicles to include this technology.

A brake override system incorporates sensors at the brake and gas pedals that can relay information to a computer about which pedals are being pressed. The computer is able to determine unusual driving behaviors, such as pressing both pedals simultaneously or keeping the accelerator pressed while also pumping the brakes. The latter situation can happen in the event the throttle gets stuck , causing the vehicle to drive out of control. A brake override system could detect that happening, and in response activate the brakes while reducing power to the engine.

Safety is the largest benefit of brake override technology. Back in 2009, Toyota had to recall millions of vehicles because of complaints of Toyotas accelerating without any control. A total of 52 people died and 38 others were injured because of these malfunctions. Had Toyota cars been equipped with brake override systems at the time, many of these deaths may have been avoided.

Brake override systems are only going to become more common, even without a new federal law. More vehicles are also being outfitted with high-tech safety measures such as front and rear collision sensors and lane-change assist sensors, and these systems depend on brake override systems in order to prevent accidents from occurring. Some people cringe at losing control of their vehicles to computers, and this technology is a step in that direction. However, unlike Google's quest for self-driving cars, this is an advancement that everyone can live with.