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New Smart Cars Can Predict Emergencies and Make Drivers Safer

Jul 12, 2008
Vehicle safety is something of a puzzle for automakers. Improved vehicle safety technology have made cars safer than ever, yet the number of vehicle-related deaths in the U.S. has remained steady at 40 000 fatalities each year. Why haven't all these new vehicle safety measures made us safer? One company has hypothesized that the problem lies not with the cars, but rather, with the drivers.

New research from Robert Bosch LLC suggests that two out of every three drivers don't hit the brakes hard enough before an accident. This doesn't mean the driver wants the accident - it's simply the nature of the human condition. During an accident, a multitude of things are competing for the driver's attention, from multiple warning systems going off and distractions from other passengers, to the simple act of processing what's going on in the surrounding environment. All these combined together can delay the decision-making process a few milliseconds too long, and impair the driver's ability to hit the brakes fast enough, or with enough force.

Bosch's solution is to implement a predictive brake-assist technology which prevents accidents by detecting, then reacting to possible accidents by activating the brakes. The technology monitors the traffic around the vehicle continuously, and determines stopping distance. The ongoing function of this technology in the vehicle's computer prepares the hydraulic brake for full-force braking when an accident is imminent.

Although there's not enough research yet to know for sure, it's reasonable to think the predictive brake-assist technology will be useful in preventing some of the over 2 million front-end collisions that occur every year. However, some argue that this technology might actually decrease safety, because drivers might not fully understand how the system works and erroneously believe it will do most of the braking for them. They then might not try to stop the car themselves, increasing their risk of accident. This argument seems inane, but shouldn't be completely dismissed. More research and testing are needed before this system can be made mandatory.

Some manufacturers are already using predictive braking technology. Mercedes Benz has implemented the system in their SL550. Based on the amount of pressure the driver places on the brake pedal, the car is able to sense an emergency and apply the maximum power boost. Many other manufacturers, such as Toyota, Volvo, Cadillac, and BMW are also testing the technology.

The predictive brake-assist technology is only one new electronic system to improve automotive safety. In addition to Bosch's proposed predictive brake assist technology, there's also something called "lane departure notification." Simply stated, lane departure notification uses an electric eye to determine if the car is driving outside the lines. This system would most benefit drivers who may be falling asleep, as driving outside the lane will trigger an audible warning.

In accordance with the theory that drivers may in fact pose a safety hazard to themselves, Bosch has proposed a modification to the current vehicle safety ratings. The proposed new safety ratings would include a sixth star, evaluating a vehicle's accident avoidance systems, such as the predictive braking and lane departure notification systems. This will help consumers to compare just how safe a vehicle really is, taking into consideration how it will help them avoid accidents, not just how the car will hold up in one.
About the Author
Author Jason Lancaster, an auto industry veteran, developed AccurateAutoAdvice.com. You'll find accurate car buying tips and car advice.
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