It’s been 10 years since Mercedes-Benz first introduced its PRE-SAFE technology, with the anticipatory occupant protection system initially debuting on the W220-series S Class back in 2002.

PRE-SAFE is now available on 40 models from Mercedes-Benz, from the base A Class to the S Class flagship sedan, and the technology continues to evolve with the arrival of each new model.

PRE-SAFE is essentially a system that activates protective measures for a vehicle's occupants as a precaution if it predicts a crash is imminent. Some of the measures include pre-tensioning of the seatbelts, automatic closing of the windows, automatic adjustment of the seats and headrests, and inflating of the bolsters in the seats.  

The aim is to prepare the occupants and vehicle so that the seat belts and airbags function optimally and without additional injury to the occupants.

Some of the PRE-SAFE activating conditions include emergency or panic braking, severe over or understeer, critical steering maneuvers, or object detection if Mercedes’ DISTRONIC PLUS cruise control system is also fitted.

With the arrival of the 2014 S Class later this year, Mercedes will be rolling out additional features for its PRE-SAFE system. These include PRE-SAFE BRAKE with pedestrian detection, which can initiate autonomous braking, stopping the vehicle completely from speeds up to 31 mph if it detects a pedestrian or object in the road ahead, PRE-SAFE PLUS, which can prepare for a rear-end collision, and PRE-SAFE IMPULSE, which can pull the driver and front passenger away from the direction of impact by their seat belts at an early phase of the crash.

Analyses performed during crash tests show just how important and effective anticipatory occupant protection can be. In the case of seat belt tensioning, for example, the head of a dummy is subjected to around 30 percent less stress, while stress in the neck area is reduced 40 percent during certain impacts.

According to Mercedes-Benz, the idea for PRE-SAFE came about when one of its engineers, Karl-Heinz Baumann, glanced at a biology book belonging to his daughter. The book showed images of a cat turning and stretching itself when falling, to ensure that it is in the best possible position prior to landing.