Collision Avoidance Systems: The Keys to Road Safety

With traffic fatalities rising at an alarming rate, collision avoidance systems are a promising solution.

cars without collision avoidance systemsPer the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), almost 1.3 million people die in road accidents each year with an additional 20-50 million injured. That averages 3,287 global fatalities a day, making auto accidents the 9th leading cause of death. The World Health Organization (WHO) broke that down even further in 2015. Within low and lower-middle income populations, road deaths came in at number 10, but within the upper-middle class it ranked 7 just below Alzheimer’s Disease, but above both Liver and Stomach Cancer.

Then on February 15, 2017, it was reported that traffic fatalities in the United States would reach over 40,000 for 2016. That is the highest level since 2007 and one that has safety experts, law enforcement and automakers alike scrambling for solutions. While distracted driving and speeding certainly contribute to this uptick, many feel the biggest issue is complacency with enforcing seat belt and cell phone usage laws. Per ASIRT, if something isn’t done to stem this trend, car accidents will rise to number five by 2030. The technology that enables connected cars and autonomous vehicles has long been touted as the answer to everything from traffic congestion to traffic fatalities. In the case of the latter, collision avoidance systems are arguably the key to drastically reducing these tragedies—if not completely abolishing them.

The evolution of vehicle safety

pre-collision avoidance systems carWhile it’s a priority of today’s automakers, vehicle safety met with a great deal of resistance when cars were first created. The innovative machines were originally made of wood, had no doors, windows or turn signals, and were stopped by the equivalent of a bicycle brake—leather pads that pressed against the tires when activated by hand levers. These drove on unpaved roads without stop signs or traffic lights. True, top speed was 10 mph (16 km/h), however, little consideration was given to the safety of the people in the car and pedestrians on the street alike.

Crashes, on the other hand, have been a part of automobile history since the beginning. The first gas-powered car collision was in 1891 when inventor James Lambert was driving his single-cylinder automobile with a friend, ran over a tree root, lost control and hit a hitching post. Both men walked away with only minor injuries. The first gas-powered traffic fatality occurred in England in 1896 when Mrs. Bridget Driscoll was crossing the street and saw a self-powered horseless carriage barrelling (4 mph) down upon her. The driver, Arthur Edsall, sounded his horn, yelled to her to, “Watch out!”, but she was frozen by the sight of the horseless Roger-Benz motor car and was struck. At the inquest, which ruled it “accidental death,” the coroner commented, “I trust that this sort of nonsense will never happen again.”

The impact of Unsafe at Any Speed

The earliest safety features in cars were shatterproof glass and four-wheel brakes in the late 1920s. By the ‘30s all car bodies were steel instead of wood and hydraulic brakes were introduced. However, it was the 3-point seat belt created by safety engineer, Nils Bohlin of Volvo in 1959, that truly revolutionized and advanced automotive safety. While the seat belt is seen as the single most effective protection in an accident, other than the introduction of more efficient braking systems, none of these innovations helped cars avoid or lessen an actual collision.

The belt, however, was not standard on every car and when Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile was published in 1965, there were over 47,000 fatal crashes reported in the United States alone. The book highlighted the lack of government involvement in the safety of motor vehicles and led to an almost immediate response. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) was created within ten months of its release to oversee the safety and standards of the transportation industry. Then, in 1970, the Highway Safety Act was signed and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was born. Since that time there have been significant strides in protecting both drivers and those who come in contact with the vehicles on the road.

The ins and outs of collision avoidance systems

visual for collision avoidance systems From pushing for better highways to support safer driving to producing autonomous cars as a way to alleviate a variety of vehicle related issues, focusing on ways to keep people safe while traveling on roads is a global initiative. Crash or collision avoidance systems are an integral part of this.

Collision avoidance systems consist of a bundling of sensors and tools that assist connected cars in getting the world to a true Vision Zero future. The different features that go into collision avoidance technology create an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) to support a safer, more stable driving experience. These range from the familiar anti-lock braking system (ABS) to its more advanced automatic emergency braking (AEB) offspring and far beyond. The below are different features in ADAS and what they do.

Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Traction Control

One of the first technologies to assist in crash avoidance, anti-lock braking systems (ABS) were implemented in 1978. The ABS adjusts brake pressure to combat any locking of wheels that can cause a spinout and/or further damage to either vehicle. Electronic stability control (ESC) and traction control are two crash avoidance technologies directly linked to ABS. With ESC, when a car spins out, brakes are applied to different wheels and engine power is decreased to help stabilize the vehicle. Traction control works with the ABS wheel speed sensors to determine if engine power needs to decrease to allow one of the tires to regain traction in slippery conditions.

Forward Collision Warning

A key feature in crash avoidance, forward collision warning (FCW) uses sensors to determine how close an automobile is getting to either a vehicle or obstacle in front of it. If a crash seems imminent, the system alerts the driver—through sounds, lights or both—to react. FCW is a warning technology, not an automatic responder—it will not autonomously apply brakes or control the steering wheel to avoid a collision.

Automatic (or Autonomous) Emergency Braking (AEB)

This collision avoidance technology detects potential crashes and emergency situations the car is about to face then autonomously steps in to either avoid or lessen an impact should the driver not react in time. NHTSA strongly advocates AEB to lower fatalities and injuries on the road. Currently, it exists two ways: dynamic brake support (DBS) and crash imminent braking (CIB). DBS automatically augments how hard a driver presses on the brake pedal, and CIB slows or even stops the car to halt a collision or reduce its impact when a driver simply doesn’t react quickly enough. Either system will be standard on all U.S. models by 2022.

Lane Departure Warning (LDW)/Lane Departure Prevention (LDP)

Lane departure warning (LDW) systems use a variety of signals to alert you when your car is drifting too close to a lane so you can correct it. The alert may be a sound, vibrating seats or steering wheels, a visual cue with a light flashing and more. The system works through a mix of sensors and cameras that register lane markings and is triggered when the car gets too close to those lines or breaches them. This is different than lane departure prevention (LDP), which is autonomously proactive and will do such things as apply the brakes or connect with the steering wheel to gently turn your car to correct unintentional lane changing, which helps avoid a crash. LDW and LDP assume the potential lane change is accidental if the turn signal is not activated and will automatically shut off when you put on your blinker. As long as it’s on, the system remains dormant. The biggest goal with LDW and LDP is to lower the single car highway accident. Per AAA, these systems have the potential to do so by approximately 46% once they are installed on a broad scale.

Adaptive Headlights

Adaptive headlights have a self-leveling system that senses how a car is moving and reacts to the terrain and driving habit of the operator. The level sensor uses electric servomotors to adjust the intensity of the lights and their position to stay on the highway and maintain visibility around curves, over hills and when approaching road hazards. These are currently required on all new cars in Europe and all U.S. cars that have bi-xenon headlights.

Blind-Spot Detection

Blind spots cause a myriad of issues while driving, and mirrors and quick looks over the shoulder can only capture so much area. Blind-spot detection uses either sensors or cameras to project preventative information about the hardest areas to see around the car. In some models the driver can turn the system on or off. Some vehicles, like the more recent Infiniti M-Series, also offer steering resistance if the driver doesn’t heed the warning signal.

Note on rear-end collision avoidance

Rear-end collisions account for a vast majority of traffic accidents. Currently, there are no specific collision avoidance systems created to deal with this issue, but all of the components combined address all manner of vehicle incidents including rear-end collisions.

Situational Awareness

V2V connectingIn its most basic form, situational awareness is all about keeping alert to your surroundings at all times. It affects us everyday whether it’s walking down the street, moving through the halls at work or driving our car. Staying clued into what’s going on around you is the first step to collision avoidance. Technology has added an extra level of safety through the installation of sensors and cameras into connected cars to boost a driver’s situational awareness while operating his or her automobile. However, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology keeps the automobile updated on things even LIDAR can’t see. With V2V, cars speak to each other, sharing information about proximity to other automobiles and road conditions. This enhances the vehicle’s situational awareness and is one of the innovations that makes the autonomous operation of these vehicles possible.

Pushing forward technology

In March of 2016, U.S. DOT, NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) announced that 20 automakers had committed to making automatic emergency braking  (AEB) standard on all new cars by September 1, 2022. These 20 make up 99 percent of the U.S. auto market. By getting the car manufacturers to agree to this, the technology will be available sooner than would be the case if the NHTSA put the makers through the normal regulatory process.

As part of that commitment, the following is agreed:

  • AEB will be standard on almost all light-duty cars and small trucks with a gross weight of 8,500 lbs. or less by September 1, 2022 and virtually every truck with a gross vehicle weight between 8,501 and 10,000 lbs. by September 1, 2025.
  • Automakers who have signed on will ensure the vehicles have both a forward collision warning system that “meets a subset of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s current 5-Star Safety Ratings program requirements on the timing of driver alerts and an automatic braking system that earns at least an advanced rating in the current Insurance Institute for Highway Safety front crash prevention track tests. The baseline performance measures are a speed reduction of at least 10 mph in either the IIHS 12 or 25 mph tests, or a speed reduction of 5 mph in both of the tests.”
  • IIHS and NHTSA will implement an annual monitoring and updating system on safety progress.

The IIHS and NHTSA believe employing these safety measures will prevent 28,000 crashes and 12,000 injuries per year.

Top 2017 vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)

collision avoidance alert on dashboardThe future of ADAS now lies within cracking the autonomous vehicle code. All of the technology going into these systems are part of the driverless toolkit and as self-driving cars evolve, so will collision avoidance systems. Automakers have already incorporated several safety features for their 2017 vehicles, which include the following:

  • forward-collision warning
  • auto braking city speed
  • auto braking highway speed
  • lane departure warning (LDW)
  • lane departure prevention (LDP)
  • blind-spot warning
  • rear-cross traffic
  • rearview camera

The following car models come with all of these collision avoidance systems features as standard:

  • Acura RLX year 2016/2017
  • Cadillac CTS V 2017
  • Genesis G80 2017
  • Genesis G90 2017
  • Honda Accord Hybrid 2017
    • This car offers Honda Lane Watch in the blind-spot warning category. This feature is a camera mounted in the outside passenger mirror that looks down the side of the car. It does not show the driver’s side at the moment and doesn’t alert you if a car is in the blind spots on either side.
  • Lexus LX 2017

Some models with noted safety capability:

  • The 2016/2017 Tesla S and X offer all features except rear-cross traffic.
  • Rear view cameras are standard on every Subaru model for 2016/2017 while all of the other safety features are offered as optional on all models except three.
  • All 2016/2017 Volvos offer the features in a combination of optional and standard.
  • Other than just a handful of models in the 2016, 2017 and 2016/2017 class, Toyota’s 2016/2017 fleet provide the safety systems either as optional or standard.

Things to consider

driver POV through rainy windshieldThe combination of these collision avoidance features creates a safer driving experience and automakers around the world are actively installing these systems in their vehicles to lower the instances of crashes. Drivers, however, need to understand that for all of the technology and innovation that is being implemented, they need to stay alert behind the wheel. Nothing completely stops a crash automatically and handing over the reins to your connected car entirely leads to dangerous consequences. As the autonomous car movement advances forward, so will the systems meant to avoid and lessen traffic fatalities and injury, but human intervention and addressing infrastructure will be necessary even when the steering wheel is a thing of the past.