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Smart Cars Predict Emergencies and Make Drivers Safer

Jul 16, 2008
Vehicle safety is a puzzling issue for automakers. Despite improvements in vehicle safety measures, vehicle-related fatalities in the U.S. have stayed the same over the years, with about 40 000 deaths a year. Why are fatalities continuing at the same level despite technology which makes cars safer? One suggestion is that it's not unsafe cars that are responsible for these deaths - it's the unsafe drivers behind the wheel.

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.

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.

There are over two-million front-end collisions each year, and while there is no way to know how much the predictive brake-assist system will reduce this number, it's reasonable to assume it will help in some way. However, there is some argument that this technology will actually hurt safety. The argument is that because drivers will not understand the technology, they will assume the car will do the majority of the braking for them, and will not attempt to stop the car themselves. This argument seems absurd, but should not be discounted completely. More testing should be completed before this type of safety feature is mandated.

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.

Predictive brake-assist technology is just one of many new technologies aimed at improving automotive safety. A lane departure notification is another new development which will protect drivers. It uses an electric eye to monitor the vehicle's position in relation to the lines on the road. If the vehicle starts driving outside the lines, the system will release an audible warning, which could greatly benefit drivers who may be falling asleep during long drives.

Continuing with the notion that drivers themselves may be the greatest safety danger they face, Bosch has proposed adding a sixth star to the current vehicle safety rating system. This new star will rank a vehicle's accident avoidance systems, such as lane departure notification and predictive brake-assist. It will help consumers evaluate how well a vehicle will help them stay safe on the road, not just how well it will withstand an accident.
About the Author
Author Jason Lancaster, a car industry veteran, created AccurateAutoAdvice.com. You'll find accurate auto advice and car buying tips.
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