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Are Autonomous Cars the Future?

Lifestyle & Opinion

By Jordan Frazier

Car Accidents and Fatalities

The global epidemic of road crash fatalities and disabilities is gradually being recognized as a major public health concern. The first step to being informed about global road safety and to developing effective road safety interventions is to have access to facts. Over 37,000 people die in road crashes each year in the United States. An additional 2.35 million are injured or disabled. Over 1,600 children under 15 years of age die each year.  Nearly 8,000 people are killed in crashes involving drivers ages 16-20.  Road crashes cost the U.S. $230.6 billion per year, or an average of $820 per person. Road crashes are the single greatest annual cause of death of healthy U.S. citizens traveling abroad.  (Association for Safe International Road Travel, 2019.)

The number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes has fallen over the last decade. The death toll in 2017 was 15 percent lower than it was in 2005, when it began a sharp decline. Fatality rates per population and per mile traveled have dropped even more rapidly. The crash death rate per population has fallen by nearly half since the 1970s and declined 3 percent from 2016 to 2017. More men than women die in motor vehicle crashes. Men typically drive more miles than women and are more likely to engage in risky practices. (IIHS, 2017.)

Our Responsibility

Road safety is a shared responsibility. Reducing risk in the world’s road traffic systems requires commitment and informed decision-making by government, industry, non-governmental organizations and international agencies. It also requires the participation of people from many different disciplines, including road engineers, motor vehicle designers, law enforcement officers, health professionals, educators, and community groups.

Road traffic crashes are predictable and can be prevented. Many countries have shown sharp reductions in the number of crashes and casualties by taking actions including: Raising awareness of, legislating and enforcing laws governing speed limits, alcohol impairment, seat-belt use, child restraints and safety helmets. Formulating and implementing transport and land-use policies that promote safer and more efficient trips; encouraging the use of safer modes of travel, such as public transport; and incorporating injury prevention measures into traffic management and road design. Making vehicles more protective and visible for occupants, pedestrians and cyclists; using daytime running lights, high-mounted brake lights and reflective materials on cycles, carts, rickshaws and other non-motorized forms of transport.

Crash Avoidance Technology

Technology saves lives. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration stands at the forefront of new and evolving vehicle technologies, working alongside industry partners and safety advocates to ensure vehicle buyers have the latest information regarding safety equipment. Driver assistance technologies not only keep drivers and passengers safe, but they keep other drivers and pedestrians safe, too. Automakers are constantly developing and implementing these new technologies, while NHTSA shares safety-related performance data and explains to the consumer how these new technologies work. Below are many examples of driver assist technologies that are available if not standard in vehicles today. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration explains below how capable these systems are as well as how they work.

Forward Collision Warning

There are now all these available technologies on new and used vehicles. One of the biggest ones that is now becoming standard on many new vehicle is Forward Collision Warning. A forward collision warning (FCW) system is an advanced safety technology that monitors a vehicle’s speed, the speed of the vehicle in front of it, and the distance between the vehicles. If vehicles get too close due to the speed of the rear vehicle, the FCW system will warn that driver of an impending crash. It’s important to note that FCW systems do not take full control of the vehicle or keep the driver from operating it. FCW systems use sensors to detect slower-moving or stationary vehicles. When the distance between vehicles becomes so short that a crash is imminent, a signal alerts the driver so that the driver can apply the brakes or take evasive action, such as steering, to prevent a potential crash. Vehicles with this technology provide drivers with an audible alert, a visual display, or other warning signals, and in this way, help prevent frontal crashes into the rear of slower moving or stopped vehicles. (NHTSA, 2019.)

Automatic Emergency Braking

An addition to Forward Collision warning is the use of Automatic Emergency Braking. Automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems detect an impending forward crash with another vehicle in time to avoid or mitigate the crash. These systems first alert the driver to take corrective action and supplements the driver’s braking to avoid the crash. If the driver does not respond, the AEB system may automatically apply the brakes to assist in preventing or reducing the severity of a crash. NHTSA believes these technologies represent the next wave of potentially significant advances in vehicle safety. The AEB systems’ engage dynamic brake support (DBS) or crash imminent braking (CIB) to potentially save lives and reduce moderate and less severe rear-end crashes that are common on our roadways. If the driver brakes, but not hard enough to avoid the crash, DBS automatically supplements the driver’s braking in an effort to avoid the crash. If the driver does not take any action to avoid the crash, CIB automatically applies the vehicle’s brakes to slow or stop the car, avoiding the crash or reducing its severity. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015, 33.4 percent of all police-reported crashes involved a rear-end collision with another vehicle as the first harmful event in the crash. NHTSA believes that advanced crash avoidance and mitigation technologies like DIB and CBS systems could help in this area. NHTSA’s extensive research on this technology and on relevant performance measures showed that a number of AEB systems currently available in the marketplace are capable of avoiding or reducing the severity of rear-end crashes in certain situations. (NHTSA, 2019.)

Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking

An addition to Automatic Emergency Braking is Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking. A pedestrian automatic emergency braking (PAEB) system, also known as frontal pedestrian impact mitigation braking, is an emerging safety technology that provides automatic braking for vehicles when pedestrians are in front of the vehicle and the driver has not acted to avoid a crash. A PAEB system is a crash avoidance system that uses information from forward-looking sensors to automatically apply or supplement the brakes when the system determines a pedestrian is in danger of being hit by a vehicle. PAEB systems typically use cameras, but some also use a combination of cameras and radar sensors. These systems are built to protect different types of pedestrian crashes that occur when a pedestrian is crossing the street in front of the vehicle. (NHTSA, 2019.)

Rearview Video System

One of the most common technologies that is helping drivers on the road and is now government mandated in all new passenger vehicles since May 2018 is the rearview video system.  A rearview video system (RVS), also known as a backup camera, is a safety technology that helps prevent back-over crashes and protect our most vulnerable people, children, and senior citizens. By providing an image of the area behind the vehicle, backup cameras help drivers see behind the vehicle. When a driver shifts a vehicle into reverse, the RVS shows, either in the dashboard or in a small display in the rearview mirror, an image of the area behind the vehicle. The field of view includes a 10-foot by 20-foot zone directly behind the vehicle. It’s important to remember that rearview video systems are not a replacement for mirrors or turning around to look; rather, they’re an added safety tool for revealing hidden dangers. (NHTSA, 2019.)

Automatic Crash Notification

While these active safety features are quite useful when it comes to preventing a collision from happening, there are going to be instances when an accident is inevitable. Car manufacturers realize this, so they have come up with different passive systems over the years. Some of which may be easily recognizable such as the seatbelt an airbags. One of the newer, as well as cheaper, systems is 911 Notification. An automatic crash notification (ACN) system is an emerging safety technology designed to notify emergency responders that a crash has occurred and provide its location. In most cases, when the ACN sensor detects either that an air bag has deployed or that there’s been a dramatic and sudden deceleration, the system automatically connects to an operator, who will then be able to communicate with passengers in the vehicle after a crash. The operator is also able to collect basic information from the vehicle, without passenger input, to provide to emergency responders so they can easily locate and reach the scene of the crash. Automatic crash notification systems can reduce death and disability by decreasing the time it takes for emergency medical services to arrive at a crash scene and transport victims to a hospital. More lives can be saved and the severity of injuries reduced if a crash victim receives medical care as soon as possible, particularly within the first hour following a crash. ACN is especially beneficial to crash victims in rural areas, where there are typically fewer or no witnesses to call emergency responders. (NHTSA, 2019.)

Consumers

One of the biggest issues that consumers face with technologies like this is the added cost to purchasing a vehicle as well as maintenance costs if these systems were to malfunction or break. Crash imminent braking and dynamic brake support have been available on some vehicle models in the United States since 2006. CIB and DBS systems are typically included in safety technology packages as optional features. Manufacturers are using a number of different sensor combinations in production-level AEB systems. The agency conducted a cost analysis of several production-level systems and found that the system cost varies significantly depending on the type and number of sensors used. As of recently, some manufacturers are beginning to make some if not most of these technologies standard for even the base model on brand new vehicles. This means that these systems have been around long enough that these costs are marginal to manufacturers to the point where they include them as standard on most models.

There are numerous other systems out there as well. There are some that turn your headlights in the direction that the vehicle is turning so that there is better visibility at night when going around corners. There are even systems that maintain your cars steering inside of a lane so that the vehicle does not drift from one side to another. The point being, there are numerous driver assist technologies that are now flooding the market. It is very important for the consumer to learn about how these technologies work so that they can become informed consumers when it comes to purchasing a vehicle. While these technologies can certainly help out in some situations, we are not in the time of self-driving cars just yet. Just be sure that you know what you are buying, and what these neat and new technologies are capable of doing in assisting us in driving.


Works Cited

  1. currin.ctr@dot.gov. (2019, April 05). Driver Assistance Technologies. Retrieved from https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/driver-assistance-technologies
  2. General statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/general-statistics/fatalityfacts/state-by-state-overview
  3. Road Safety Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asirt.org/safe-travel/road-safety-facts/

Header photo by AARP

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