German tyre and automotive technology giant Continental is celebrating 50 years of the anti-lock brake system (ABS) this month, marking five decades of a technology it first presented at the 1969 IAA in Frankfurt.

According to a statement from Continental, ABS is a technological development that has helped prevent thousands of road fatalities in the Middle East and across the world. The idea of preventing car wheels from locking while braking and thus ensuring that the vehicle is able to steer, had already occurred to designers in the 1920s. But a solution to the problem only emerged with the development of powerful electronics.

Starting in 1965, engineers at Teves (later ITT-Teves) – the company became part of Continental in 1998 – worked on an anti-lock brake system for passenger cars. By 1984 the world’s first microprocessor-controlled ABS for passenger cars on the road, the MK II, was launched. In North America it was available for the Lincoln Continental, while in Europe this safety technology became a standard feature of the Ford Scorpio.

Helmut Fennel, who at the time held a key function in promoting the use of microprocessors for ABS, said: “Due to its programmability, our system could be quickly and optimally validated both for braking manoeuvres on rough roads, that is, with a high coefficient of friction, and on slippery roads, such as on ice in winter. It was also considerably more flexible than other solutions and could therefore be quickly adapted to different vehicle concepts, such as models with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The microprocessor solution gave us a head start of several years.”

Continental explained that the MK II was the first ABS on the market to combine the brake function, brake booster, hydraulic control and anti-lock brake system into one compact unit. A traction control system (TCS) was also integrated shortly afterwards.

An important milestone in the development of ABS was the later MK IV system, which went into series production in 1989 and for the first time also included an electronic brake force distribution system, making mechanical-hydraulic components superfluous. The German company added that its developers took another developmental leap in 1995, when an electronic stability control (ESC) was integrated into the MK 20 system for the first time.

According to Continental’s statement, an ABS today is equipped with up to 50 additional and safety functions, such as the automatic release of the parking brake when starting off, hill start assist or as an important component of adaptive cruise control systems. The entire system weighs just two kilograms and takes up as much space as a an SLR camera. The first production-ready ABS from Continental was the size of a five-litre petrol can and weighed 11.5kg.

Continental said that the introduction of ABS has significantly improved road safety, with other factors such as the safety belt and the introduction of speed limits playing a role alongside the spread of ABS. Since the introduction of the first systems at the end of the 1970s, the total number of people killed in road traffic in Germany has fallen by 80%. Similarly, in the UAE deaths from road accidents have fallen from 33 per 100,000 people in 1988 to just 3.83 in 2018.

According to Continental, ABS – for both passenger cars and motorcycles – makes a significant contribution to the long-term goal of Vision Zero, a future without road traffic crashes. In order to come ever closer to this goal, the company says it is still pressing ahead with the development of this safety system after 50 years of ABS.