Imagine a cold, snowy day where it's as dark as twilight even though the
clock says it's noon. As you descend a steep hill, you apply even pressure
to your brakes, and the antilock braking system (ABS) controls the tire slip
with incredible finesse, allowing you to steer around an obstacle without
losing control of the vehicle or sliding on the slippery road surface.
At the bottom of the hill, the antilock braking system (ABS) brings you to a
safe stop at the red traffic light. Looking in your rearview mirror, you see
another vehicle (perhaps with a novice driver and no active, integrated
assistance system) sliding out of control down the hill with all wheels locked.
As that car picks up velocity, you look both ways and decide you'll have to
cross the empty intersection to avoid a collision.
Traction control systems (TCS) silently control the power application to the
wheels so that you maximize traction and minimize slippage. Your car slowly,
but calmly, moves across the intersection. You see the other car stop in the
middle of the intersection facing the wrong way, having spun 180 degrees.
Antilock brakes, traction control, and even "backup" cameras are
pretty common on most sedans and SUVs these days. They can be very helpful in
avoiding crashes, but some newer technology may be less familiar or may be
greeted with the same types of skepticism that these "validated"
systems once endured.
We have become more accustomed to certain "advanced driver assistance
systems" over time since we've had time to practice with them, learn
how they feel and operate differently, and understand how to change our own
behaviors (don't pump brakes when you've got ABS, don't punch the
accelerator and expect a kick of power when TCS suggests a smoother
acceleration curve, etc.). In short, we've learned to trust these systems
based on practice and experience.
Still, there are many new systems being introduced as a result of the keen
interest in developing self-driving cars and trucks. While many people remain
highly skeptical of a world where vehicles may have no direct user controls
(such as a steering wheel or gas and brake pedals), the research being
completed and tested for such a future can help us save lives right here, right
What's Out There, Now?
Identifying and learning about all of the immediate options available on
various makes and models can be a challenge. Even the terminology used to
describe the systems varies by manufacturer and safety expert. Each
manufacturer tends to have its own "brand name" for each system,
and safety specialists sometimes will refer to either a brand name or use a
generic reference to describe a technology system.
Fortunately, the University of Iowa and National Safety Council have teamed
up to produce a highly informative Web portal at http://mycardoeswhat.org. The
"About " section of this portal states its mission is to "help
educate drivers on new vehicle safety technologies designed to help prevent
crashes. These technologies range from increasing the stability and control of
cars to providing warnings about crash threats to automatically intervening to
avoid or reduce the severity of a crash."
Thirty-eight specific systems are named, described, and explained within the
following five broad categories of driver assistance.
- Forward collision prevention
- Braking, tire pressure, and antirollover
- Driver state monitoring and communication
- Parking and backing up assistance
- Lane and side assistance
All of these systems can help avoid various types of collisions. Some may
appear to be driver "convenience" items, such as the ability to
monitor tire pressure from the dashboard or using cameras to augment mirrors in
detecting objects in "blind zones"; however, many of the new systems
have the ability to take control of the vehicle if the driver fails to react in
time. This is not a new concept. ABS takes control of the braking sequence to
maximize tire grip on the road while allowing for limited release of the
brakes, which allows the wheel to turn instead of lock up. Drivers have come to
realize that the pulsing brake pedal is an indicator that the system is
engaged. Further, ABS doesn't fully take control of the vehicle since it
only maximizes the brake system efficiency during panic maneuvers.
Compare ABS to parallel park assist in luxury cars that takes over full
operation of the car while parking on city streets. The use of parallel park
assist is voluntary, and the driver has likely practiced at the dealership or
on side streets before fully trusting its operation in challenging
circumstances. Some of the newer systems, however, take control of the car in
different ways that make some drivers nervous.
Forward Collision Warning and Automatic Emergency Braking
By using lasers, radar, and cameras, the new forward collision warning
(FCW) systems can detect objects in the road (or near the lane on either side)
and distinguish these shapes using an object library. Once the object is
classified as a bike, a pedestrian, or another vehicle, the system can
determine whether the object is crossing your path, coming toward you, or going
away from your current position. In considering the object's relative
speed, direction, and size, a threat assessment can be made with 1 in 1000
confidence and an audible warning can be issued to the driver. The goal of the
warning is to get the driver's attention refocused on the immediate threat
so that he or she can take preemptive action.
What happens if the driver takes no action? Well, barring the presence of
additional safety technology like automatic emergency braking (AEB), a
collision is likely to occur. However, if the vehicle is equipped with AEB,
it can take control in one of two key ways: it may prime the braking system so
that a driver's late reaction will have a stronger than normal response, or
it may actually activate the brakes to decelerate the vehicle while monitoring
the closure rate. The vehicle will either slow to reduce the severity of the
impact or will successfully stop to avoid the collision outright.
Many drivers express skepticism that the car would be a better pilot than
the human driver, and others fear false alerts with braking events occurring
when not justified. A car or truck that suddenly stops in the travel lane for a
false alarm would make a very large target for the following vehicle.
Skepticism or Fear?
Volvo just sponsored an online survey that gathered 50,000 responses from
drivers across the United States. The survey was titled "Future of
Driving" and asked about comfort levels with autonomous (self-driving)
Some of the report's preliminary findings, which were published June 29,
2016, in Automotive Fleet magazine in the article "Video: N.Y., Calif. More Eager for Autonomous Cars,"
are as follows.
[A] total of 90% of New Yorkers and 86% of Californians feel that autonomous
cars could make life easier.… Residents in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Texas
are less convinced than the average American about the safety benefits of
autonomous driving. Only about half (52%) of Illinois respondents would trust
an autonomous car to make decisions about safety, 10% less than the national
average, according to survey results.
Clearly, some commuters and daily drivers are eager for the new technology,
and others are much more skeptical.
From a fleet manager's perspective, the numbers alone may make the early
adoption of FCW/AEB systems necessary. In one example reported by Paul Clinton
in "Sheriff's Collision Avoidance System Combats Rear-End
Crashes," published on February 17, 2016, in Government Fleet
magazine, the Polk County, Florida, Sheriff's Department made the decision
to install a system offering "forward-collision warning, pedestrian
collision warning, headway monitoring, lane departure warning, and a speed
limit indicator." With nearly 600 vehicles to retrofit, it's no small
decision or small cost. However, in the year prior to the decision, there were
two rear-end collisions valued at roughly a half-million dollars. The cost of
the mitigation system (about $740 per vehicle) is easily justified, considering
the fleet operates more than a million miles of driving per month.
In addition to the testimonials of fleets who have adopted these systems,
the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently conducted its own
study of both FCW-equipped vehicles and those equipped with both FCW and AEB.
In their report, "Crashes Avoided: Front Crash Prevention Slashes
Police-ReportedRear-End Crashes," published on January 28, 2016, they
stated the following.
Vehicles equipped with front crash prevention are much less likely to
rear-end other vehicles, IIHS has found in the first study of the
feature's effectiveness using U.S. police-reported crash data.
Systems with automatic braking reduce rear-end crashes by about 40 percent
on average, while forward collision warning alone cuts them by 23 percent,
the study found. The autobrake systems also greatly reduce injury
If all vehicles had been equipped with autobrake that worked as well as
the systems studied, there would have been at least 700,000 fewer
police-reported rear-end crashes in 2013. That number represents 13
percent of police-reported crashes overall.
With this sort of effectiveness, fleet managers and individual family
drivers are beginning to take notice. The risks of not using the new technology
already exist. Rear-end collisions are one of the most common and most
expensive claim types that insurers must deal with in the course of a policy
period. Not only is the insured driver more than 50 percent negligent for
failing to allow a proper following distance or stopping in time to avoid the
collision, some form of distraction or other impairment may also be involved
that further complicates any defense strategy that might be employed. It is far
better to avoid such claims than to have to defend them.
Do you have faith that these systems will operate as advertised? Or does it
all seem too good to be true? Do you trust your car or truck to take control
when it has decided that you missed the opportunity to react and corrects to
avoid the collision? How much practice and experience do you think we need to
be truly comfortable with the new systems? Could these systems encourage people
to take greater risks or drive while distracted by trusting the vehicle to
drive for them?
Drivers will be left to decide their own reactions and willingness to accept
the inclusion of these safety systems on vehicles, but there is no dispute that
these safety systems have the potential (and in some instances have already
demonstrated their practical applications) to save lives, reduce crashes, and
avoid needless physical damage too.
Advanced driver assistance systems that remain on alert at all times and
vigilantly watch the road around us can be a key part of reducing collisions as
traffic congestion continues to grow.
This article was prepared by Paul Farrell in my personal capacity. The
opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not reflect the view of my
employer. This article is offered as an opinion or informational piece and
should not be confused as any sort of professional advice.