Technology and Avoiding Car Crashes
Cars have only been around for a little over a century. Since their inception, engineers have been attempting to make the automobile a safer mode of transportation. While the technology to protect passengers and drivers alike can only go so far, technology has made further strides in the past few years to prevent car crashes entirely.
Collision-avoidance systems look like they’re making it easier for people to pay attention to the road and avoid the pitfalls older cars are inherently subject to. For example, in some technologically advanced vehicles, forward-collision warning systems prevent the car from crashing headlong into any solid object. Other technology, such as steering assist, are still in the works. While many of these technological developments are still not implemented into all new car models, they are becoming more affordable.
The potential of these systems to reduce the number of car accident injuries and deaths is so high the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has added collision-avoidance system testing to its suite of safety evaluations. The IIHS has found some of these collision-avoidance systems could prevent or moderate many crashes (thus saving them millions of dollars in claims). These days, to win top overall safety scores from the IIHS, a car needs to have a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking. Additionally, any automatic braking system has to function effectively in formal track tests the IIHS conducts.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also pro collision-avoidance systems and is interested in making these systems mandatory for all vehicles. However, the NHTSA, which rates all cars with 5-star safety rating, doesn’t include these systems in their ratings as of yet.
The biggest obstacle in the way of these systems is the expense. Most only come as part of extensive options packages or on expensive models with lots of bells and whistles. Most people can’t afford luxury cars, never mind luxury cars with advanced technological features, which can tag on thousands of dollars to the final price tag.
Most of these safety systems rely on sensors, cameras, lasers, and short- and long-range radar to monitor what is going on around the vehicle. Inputs on pedestrians, other vehicles, and even road signs, are processed by computers in the car, which then prompt some action from the driver or the car itself. Those efforts could start with an attention-grabbing beep or flashing dashboard icon, a tug from the seatbelt, or a vibration in the seat or steering wheel. If the driver doesn’t respond, the more advanced systems then use partial or full braking force.
However, not every system on the market is fully functional. The IIHS concluded some autonomous braking systems are more effective than others. Despite this setback, even having a less efficient system is safer than having no system at all. A 2009 study by the IIHS found a 7% reduction in crashes for cars with basic forward-collision warning systems and a 14% to 15% reduction for those with automatic braking.
Types of Systems
Of the systems available, there are many with different functions. The following section outlines the various systems developed and that will likely become more popular once they become affordable to the majority of the public.Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
A rear cross-traffic alert system, for example, warns a driver of traffic approaching from the sides as you reverse. This warning usually sounds like an audible chirp and a visual cue in either the outside mirror or the camera’s dash display. The more advanced systems can even distinguish bicycles and pedestrians. This system is particularly useful to people if they have to back into a traffic lane when nearby parked cars obscure the driver’s view.Forward-Collision Warning Systems
Another system includes the more popular forward-collision warning (FCW) and autobrake. This technology is also known as a “pre-crash” warning system, and they either stand alone or are combined with laser-, radar-, or camera-based systems that can warn drivers of impending collisions. Many of these systems also pre-charge the brakes and take other steps to prepare for the crash. There are many different types of system models with this goal in mind, so choosing one that lets you adjust your follow distance have more of an advantage in situations where you want or need to stay close to the car ahead of you.Blind-Spot Monitoring
Blind-spot monitoring (BSM) and assist are another type of system that uses radars or cameras to scan the areas beside and behind you. Typically, a driver would have to turn and check to see if a car is in his or her blind spot; however, this system looks for vehicles entering or staying in your blind zone and illuminates an icon in or near the appropriate side-view mirror. If you signal a turn while a car is in your blind spot, some systems will send a stronger alert, such as a blinking light or louder chirps. The most advanced systems help you keep in your own lane by applying the brakes on one side of the vehicle.Pedestrian Detection
One of the systems pioneered by Volvo is the pedestrian detection and braking system. This system will recognize a person who gets into the vehicle’s way. Some will apply the brakes automatically, and newer systems can even detect bicyclists. These systems are particularly useful in busy cities.Lane Departure Warning and Assistance
Another useful system that has already started becoming more popular is lane departure warning (LDW) and assistance systems. These use cameras and other sensors to identify lane markers and monitor your distance from them. If a driver strays over a line without signaling, the system will give out a warning tone or physical vibration. Lane keeping assist (LKA) is a type of system that selectively applies brakes or nudges the steering to guide you back into your lane. These systems tend to be more useful on highways than on narrow, winding country roads. The systems that correct steering are also less disconcerting than those that apply brakes.Drowsiness Detection
One of the most dangerous activities to do is drowsy driving. Some researchers have compared tired drivers to those who have had three beers before getting behind the wheel. Mercedes-Benz was the first company to implement a drowsiness detection system. It uses a computer algorithm that compares a driver’s steering behavior with those recorded at the start of the trip. Other developed systems monitor the car’s position within its lane of travel (a sleepy person might start drifting). Still other systems track the driver’s eye movements with an in-car camera, noticing rapid or prolonged eye blinks. If it detects sleepy behavior, it will chime, dab on the brakes, tug on the shoulder belt, or illuminate a coffee-cup icon on the instrument panel.Automatic Parking Assist
Some cars systems can help a driver identify a parallel or perpendicular parking space into which his or her car will fit. The system will then steer the vehicle into the parking space. Some systems can also exit from parallel parking spaces. The driver still brakes and has to follow commands from the system, but the difficulties with parallel parking become a little easier to bear.Rear Cameras
One of the systems that will become mandatory in cars by 2018 is the rear-view camera. These can help prevent back-over accidents if someone wanders behind your vehicle and can help drivers park. Some systems come with sensors that notify the driver with progressively louder and quicker beeps as you close in on an obstacle. These systems are beneficial for larger vehicles, which often have enormous blind spots behind them.
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