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Smart Cars Can Protect Drivers by Predicting Emergencies

Jul 13, 2008
When it comes to vehicle safety, automakers are a little puzzled. How can it be that vehicle-related fatalities in the U.S. have been steady at 40,000 deaths a year even as vehicle safety measures continue to improve? Is all this vehicle safety technology really making us safer? One company has announced that the problem is not with the safety of the cars - it's with the drivers themselves.

According to research from Robert Bosch LLC, two out of three drivers do not hit the brakes hard enough before an accident. This is not because he or she wants the accident, but rather because of the human condition. Multiple warning systems, distractions from passengers, and processing the events on the road can cause the decision-making process to take milliseconds too long. These overwhelming forces can impair one's ability to slam on the brakes in time, or with the correct force.

As a solution to this, Bosch proposes using a predictive brake-assist technology, which constantly monitors the vehicle's surroundings to detect any likely accidents and determine stopping distance. If an accident is evident, the brake-assist technology will react by activating the hydraulic brake, which the vehicle's computer has engaged for full-force braking as soon as the anticipated accident is detected.

Although there's no evidence yet to predict how the predictive brake-assist system will help reduce the over 2 million front-end collisions which occur each year, it's reasonable to believe it will be useful overall. However, some believe this technology could actually be detrimental to drivers' safety, because of the possible assumption that the car will do the braking in lieu of the driver, and the driver therefore will not attempt to stop the car on his or her own. This argument may seem strange, but can hold some validity. More research is needed before the predictive brake-assist technology can become a necessary safety feature on new vehicles.

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, created AccurateAutoAdvice.com. You'll find accurate tips for buying a car and car advice.
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