Road fatalities per 100,000 population have decreased by around 80% in Australia since 1975. While this is partly due to improved public awareness of road safety issues, as well as stricter enforcement of road laws by authorities, advances in car safety technology have played a major role in driving this trend. Car safety technology is currently in the process of taking another giant leap forward, with the latest advances in automotive engineering set to substantially improve the safety of all road users.
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Vehicle to vehicle communication
Telematics has the potential to make driving much safer. Vehicle to vehicle (or V2V) technology will allow cars to communicate with each other to anticipate and prevent collisions. This will be done via wireless signals that will communicate a car’s speed, direction and location to the cars around it. Advanced software systems will then use this information to predict possible collisions and either alert the drivers of these in advance, or temporarily take control of the car to prevent an accident.
Traction control systems
While antilock braking systems have solved the problem of wheel locking and loss of traction during hard braking, loss of traction can also occur when wheel spin occurs during acceleration. Traction control systems (or TCS) are designed to resolve this problem by preventing wheel spin and loss of contact between tyres and road during acceleration.
Few safety systems released to date have taken into account the much higher risk of serious accidents at night. The adaptive headlight, however, is a major move towards improved safety at night. This headlight system moves the headlight beam with the steering wheel, which provides far better visibility when cornering. Adaptive headlights can also dim and brighten automatically, depending on surrounding light conditions and the presence of other vehicles on the road.
Automatic braking systems
Automatic braking systems take driver error out of the equation when it comes to braking. If a sensor picks up that you’re approaching an object without decelerating sufficiently it will automatically activate the brakes to prevent a collision. Automatic braking systems are also being used to address the large number of accidents caused by collisions with animals, with the likes of Volvo and Audi both developing animal detection systems for their vehicles.
Blind spot sensors
Blind spots have presented a niggling safety issue for drivers since the car was invented. While learner drivers are taught to get into the habit of checking blind spots while performing parking manoeuvres or changing lanes, this also involves taking their eyes off the road, which presents a hazard of its own. Blind spot sensors are designed to automatically detect objects in a driver’s blind spot and to alert them to the risk of collision with these objects.
Adaptive cruise control
Cruise control already makes long distance driving safer, more comfortable and more fuel efficient. Adaptive cruise control systems take this technology to the next level. Adaptive cruise control technology automatically enforces any following distance programmed into the system by the driver. The system then adjusts the car’s speed in response to the behaviour of cars in front of it, and can bring a car to a complete stop if required.
Passenger airbags are nothing new, and leading car manufacturers are now working on airbags that will deploy beneath vehicles when an accident is inevitable. Once an exterior airbag is deployed it will achieve multiple objectives. The airbag will increase the stopping power of the car, prevent the front of the car dipping into the collision and improve the effectiveness of seatbelts. This is just one application of exterior airbag technology, which will find other uses as this technology advances.
Driver feedback applications
A smartphone can be turned into a powerful telematics device with the installation of a simple app. Once installed, telematics apps can be used to track driving behaviour and provide drivers with detailed feedback on their driving habits, creating a feedback loop that can improve driving behaviour. Telematics tracking apps can also be combined with incentive programmes to actively encourage better driving by offering financial rewards like cheaper insurance or cash prizes for winning safer driving competitions.