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Driving is Safer Than Ever

Fewer deaths, fewer collisions thanks to new automobile technology

Apr. 25, 2017
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It’s been a little more than 100 years since Ford’s Model T began to roll off the assembly line. In that time, cars have become safer and safer. Back when the fastest automobile could only reach speeds of 40 miles per hour, often sharing the road with horse-drawn vehicles, safety was not necessarily among the most important features of a car. Eventually, manufacturers began to realize that it might be a good idea to add some safety devices like turn signals, windshield wipers and seat belts. It hasn’t even been 50 years since the government stepped in and required seat belts or 30 years since frontal air bags were mandated.

Times have certainly changed. According to Tom Dulaney, general service manager at David Hobbs Honda and 31-year car industry veteran, “The overall quality of the vehicles have improved significantly over time. It’s all so much better—everything from airbags all around the inside to the way that the brakes work. Plus, there are cameras in all the cars now. If you want to switch lanes, back up or even park, there are cameras that can see everywhere around a car.”

Today, we are driving faster and with more potential distractions than ever before, yet fatal collision rates over the past few decades are, overall, trending down. Every new car model year seems to roll out improved safety features, and consumers expect their vehicles to protect them from worse and worse scenarios on the road. This is true for imported as well as domestic cars. Joe Reina, President of Reina International Auto/Vespa Milwaukee says, “Import car makers were always ahead for safety technology, however in the past 10 years, American manufacturers have had greater affiliation with import auto makers and now share most of the same technology.” If you’re driving a car that is five or more years old, however, here are some of the safety features and crash prevention systems that you may be missing.


Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assistance Systems 

Both lane departure warning (LDW) and lane keep assistance systems (LKAS) work to keep you safe at highway speeds by alerting you if you begin to drift into another lane. LDW systems will notify drivers with a vibration or sound, while LKAS will actually adjust your steering wheel to make the car stay in its lane. Because these systems rely on cameras to identify well-marked lanes, both LDW and LKAS are only as good as the quality of the road and may be affected by weather conditions, like rain or snow.


Forward Collision Warning Systems

Using cameras, radar or laser beams to scan the road in front of a moving car, forward collision warning systems work to detect objects ahead and alert the driver to take action. Some systems are already advanced enough to invoke an auto-braking or autonomous braking. Unlike anti-lock braking, which requires a driver to physically step on the brakes, auto-braking will activate as soon as the system recognizes that the driver isn’t stopping for whatever hazard is ahead in the road.


Blind Spot Detection Systems

All drivers know that their blind spot is a danger zone when changing lanes. When driving a car with a blind spot detection system, a vibration or tone will sound to warn you if you start to change lanes while another vehicle is in your blind spot. “It’s really nice to know if you’re clear to get over,” says Dulaney. “It can be really hard to see sometimes, especially on the right.” Some cars on the road today even include an intervention feature, which, like LKAS, will physically keep a driver from moving over if there is someone in their blind spot.


Adaptive Headlights

Adaptive headlights operate based on speed and direction, adjusting the beam of light as much as 15 degrees in either direction. These new headlights can actually pivot as the car goes around a curve or corner allowing drivers a much better view of what they are turning into and reducing the headlights’ glare for oncoming drivers. This is a big improvement over traditional headlights, which only beam on straight ahead.


Fatigue Warning Systems

A vehicle equipped with a fatigue warning system monitors a driver’s blink rate and duration. If it detects the blinks are getting longer and slower, the system will warn the driver with a physical or audio alert. Often this system will work with a LKAS to make sure the vehicle doesn’t drift into another lane before the driver can react.


Pedestrian Detection

Some of the same technology behind the forward collision warning systems is applied for pedestrian detection. For instance, if a pedestrian is detected in the road ahead, the system alerts the driver. If the driver doesn’t react quickly enough, the vehicle may actively apply the brakes. These systems tend to work best at slow speeds—which ties in well with where one would expect to find a pedestrian in the road.

Most of these safety features are receiving positive reviews from drivers, and plans to include at least some level of these newer safe technology elements in an increasing number of new vehicles from all makers across the spectrum.

So, what’s the next advancement in safety drivers may look forward to in the future? “Self-driving cars,” says Dulaney. “There will absolutely be models with that technology available in the next couple of years.” Currently, Volvo is doing tests with autopilot cars in Sweden, and Lexus is looking to have a model ready for consumers in 2020, along with other manufacturers ready to follow suit shortly.  Technology leaders, like Apple and Google, are also working to get in on this trend and developing self-driving technologies of their own. “It’s coming,” confirms Dulaney, “It’s all about safety, these days.”

Many people still seem uncomfortable with the idea of turning over control entirely to the computer in their car, yet once consumers begin to see the benefits, their concerns will likely disappear. Reina suggests, “Manufacturers will come up with self-driving cars, but a lot of people enjoy driving their vehicles and won’t want to give over control.” Consider that many of the most dangerous driving behaviors, like driving while texting or driving after too many drinks, could be nullified by a self-driving car. Perfect driving technique executed by a computer, coupled with the ever-growing implementation of safety features which many of the latest model cars already include, could put an end to car crashes and car-related fatalities. “It will be pretty interesting to see what happens with cars in the next 20 years,” concludes Dulaney.


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