It seems that safety is the focal point of every car advertisement we see these days and manufacturers are boasting the latest state of the art technologies that aim to improve safety by reducing the risk of accidents altogether. There are questions regarding just how effective these features are and whether they actually do what they claim to. As more vehicles are being outfitted with safety technologies, the cost of maintaining vehicles is also going up because the most minor fender bender can now result in the need to replace expensive sensors and circuits that are an integral part of key safety features.
Key Advancements in Safety Technology
Only a generation ago, the concept of airbags and antilock brakes was innovative and a major deal in the progression of safety. Prior to the implementation of airbag and braking technology, seatbelts were the only true protection that drivers and passengers could rely on. While these advancements seem archaic now, they really did allow the industry to make important strides in the right direction by improving stopping power in inclement weather and protecting passengers by keeping them from striking the dashboard in violent collisions. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the development of a seemingly endless number of systems that are advertised as means to prevent accidents rather than respond during a collision, and this takes the conversation about safety in an entirely new direction.
Some of the latest advancements in technology include the following key technologies and the industry is continuing to release progressive updates to these features while developing another generation of safety features.
- Stability control technology— next generation stability control has evolved from antilock brakes to systems that control torque and brake power to individual wheels. They are advertised as measures to maintain driver control by correcting oversteer and understeer and managing the power delivered to each wheel.
- Adaptive cruise control— the development of radar sensors has allowed manufacturers to design systems that will adjust your speed on the highway to match the speed of the vehicle directly in front of you, providing the convenience of allowing drivers to set their preferred speeds and then take their feet off the pedals. This is a two edged sword, however, as its efficacy is dependent on circumstances and the driver’s behavior.
- Blind spot detection— arguably one of the most useful features to surface over the last decade, blind spot detection alerts you to vehicles hiding out where you are unable to see them. This allows you to keep your focus on the road ahead and reduces your risk of colliding with another vehicle when changing lanes.
- Lane departure warning— by mounting a camera on the dash that monitors your position on the road, this system can alert you when you are flirting with the center line. There are arguments to be made against its effectiveness on city streets and back roads, however, but it seems to work well on the highway.
- Pre-collision response systems— these systems are meant to detect an imminent accident and automatically make adjustments within the interior of the vehicle to protect occupants. This includes alerting the driver, charging the brakes and airbags, moving the seats into the optimal position for airbag deployment and closing the windows. Unfortunately, if the system detects a false positive or the driver actively attempts to avoid the accident, these actions can be as cumbersome as they are meant to be beneficial.
- Braking assist technology— sometimes drivers don’t hit the brakes nearly hard enough during emergency braking and this technology detects braking patterns that indicate panic and assist by charging and applying the brakes with full force to increase braking power and reduce stopping distance.
- Curtain and side airbags— vehicles are becoming equipped with more airbags than ever, including curtain and side airbags that deploy with the primary purpose of keeping passengers inside of the vehicle during a collision. They may also provide protection from broken glass and debris.
- Rollover mitigation technology— this technology is advertised as a method accident prevention that uses sensors to detect pitch, roll and other factors that precede rollover events. When it detects the vehicle beginning to roll, it uses a combination of brake force distribution and torque to select wheels to force the wheels back onto the ground. If the vehicle continues to roll, airbags are deployed to contain passengers and prevent ejection.
- Forward collision warning and mitigation systems— these systems use the same radar sensors used for adaptive cruise control, but monitor the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you and constantly calculate distance and approach speed to determine if you are getting too close. If an accident is imminent, it sounds an alert to make the driver react and the advanced systems will even apply the brakes automatically.
- Backup cameras— allowing drivers to see a view of everything behind them while backing up is a pretty useful feature and the displays often include lines that help the driver gauge how much distance remains between the vehicle and an object or person.
- Rear cross traffic alert— useful in situations where visibility is hindered due to terrain, buildings or other vehicles, rear cross traffic alert technology uses sensors to detect oncoming vehicles and alert drivers of hazards.
- Telematics systems— the most commonly recognized telematics system is OnStar, but plenty of others have surfaced. These systems monitor your vehicle to detect signs of a collision, such as airbag deployment and when a crash is detected, you are connected to emergency services through your phone or a system operator so that you may receive assistance faster.
- Hands free technology— many of the advanced features advertised in vehicles today are boasting the ability to control your radio, navigation and other devices through voice commands and controls located on the steering wheel. While the technology has become more accurate over time, talking on the phone can still be distracting even if you have both hands on the wheel.
Common Concerns with Safety Technology
In concept, the latest generation of safety technologies could make our roads much safer through accident prevention and mitigation, but there are some problems in the application of these technologies and how they influence the behavior of drivers. These technologies are not completely useless, but the following factors need to be considered when determining their value.
- Increased cost of ownership— the sensors, radar systems and infrared scanners included in these systems are extremely expensive and a fender bender can end up costing you thousands of dollars if sensors are damaged rather than the several hundred that typical bodywork would run you.
- Encouragement of bad habits— systems such as adaptive cruise control, hands free technology and stability control may actually encourage drivers to act more recklessly by giving them a false sense of security. They may take risks they wouldn’t have otherwise and are more likely to pay less attention to what is in front of them when they believe technology will slow or stop their vehicles on their behalf.
- Not all systems are created equal— NHSTA and IIHS ratings have revealed that some manufacturers’ systems are far more effective than others and some consumers may become sold on safety technology that has not been proven effective. It is important to always check each vehicle’s crash and safety ratings prior to purchase to determine whether you can rely on the technology.
- The technology itself can become a distraction— the many alerts and warnings that drivers are subject to can prove to be distracting and voice recognition and steering wheel controls allow drivers to access their mobile devices, make calls, read and send text messages and play music. As they are using these features, they still need to divert their attention from the road to read their screens and can easily be lost in a conversation through text or phone.
- Safety technology creates a false sense of security— it is still possible to cause or be involved in an accident when driving a vehicle that is loaded with state of the art safety technologies. Drivers may become too dependent on these features to protect them rather than continue to drive defensively and use sensibility and reason to avoid collisions.
It is important to take an objective view when considering how effective the latest safety technologies are prior to purchasing your next vehicle. Most of these features are only as effective as the driver using them, so remember to use common sense and drive responsibly regardless of whether your vehicle is loaded with the latest features. The vast majority of accidents are the result of distracted driving, so it is also important to make sure that you keep your attention on the road and avoid phone conversations and texting while driving. Waiting to return a call or text until you are safely at your destination is worth it if it saves your life or keeps you from causing a serious accident that will forever impact the lives of those involved.