The new car technology that could save your life

We reveal all the safety systems you should look for on your next new car, and the high-tech driver aids coming soon...

The new car technology that could save your life

Active safety systems, such as automatic emergency braking (AEB), blindspot detection and lane-keeping assist, are now commonplace on cars. But which of them are must-haves?

Here we reveal the most important options and look ahead to what the next developments in safety will be.

AUTONOMOUS EMERGENCY BRAKING (AEB)

AUTONOMOUS EMERGENCY BRAKING (AEB)

The simplest AEB systems monitor the traffic in front of a car. If traffic slows and you don’t, the system will sound a warning before automatically applying the brakes. In most cases, these systems can prevent a collision when a car is moving at up to 15mph and lessen the impact of crashes at up to 25mph. The benefit of this is clear, given that 75% of collisions happen at less than 25mph.

AEB is “probably the most significant development in car safety since the seatbelt”, according to Matthew Avery, head of research at Thatcham Research, the UK’s Euro NCAP crash testing organisation.

AUTONOMOUS EMERGENCY BRAKING (AEB)

AUTONOMOUS EMERGENCY BRAKING (AEB)

“AEB could save 1100 lives and prevent 122,860 casualties in the UK over the next 10 years,” Avery says. “Rather than protect the driver using the seatbelt and airbag, it aims to prevent the crash in the first place. That means less expense and hassle for drivers.”

That’s why, from the start of 2018, Euro NCAP decided to make it impossible for any car to gain its maximum five-star rating if it’s not fitted with AEB as standard on every trim level.

Research by Euro NCAP has concluded that the fitment of AEB systems leads to a 38% reduction in rear-end collisions. The latest, most sophisticated systems are set to reduce this further because they can detect not only vehicles, but also other road users and pedestrians.

WHAT'S THE BEST AEB SYSTEM?

WHAT'S THE BEST AEB SYSTEM?

There are four types of technology used on AEB systems:

  • Lidar
  • Radar
  • Camera
  • Systems that combine radar and camera

Lidar sensors (pictured) use light detection to work out how far away the vehicle in front is. They’re great at preventing low-speed crashes (below 15mph) but not so effective at higher speeds.

AEB: RADAR

AEB: RADAR

Radar sensors are more effective at long distance vehicle detection. In general, they’ll help to prevent an impact when vehicles are moving at up to 30mph.

AEB: CAMERA

AEB: CAMERA

Camera-based systems can spot potential dangers and identify whether they’re a car or another road user, such as a pedestrian or cyclist. They get a 360deg view of the car and are also useful for parking and other low-speed manoeuvres.

AEB: RADAR & CAMERA

AEB: RADAR & CAMERA

Systems that use both radar and camera derived information are the best of all, because they have long-distance detection and the ability to see potential obstacles nearby. This technology is standard on the Volvo XC60, the winner of the Safety award in the 2018 Lombardyexperience? awards.

BLINDSPOT DETECTION

BLINDSPOT DETECTION

Blindspot detection is a safety system that gives you a visual warning when there’s a vehicle in the blindspot on either side of your car. Some systems use cameras located in the door mirrors and others use radar, but all will illuminate a small, often flashing, light when there’s a concealed vehicle behind you.

These systems are highly effective at reducing the number of blindspot-related accidents, which were on the rise in around 2010 due to the worsening rear and rear three-quarter visibility of new cars caused by thicker pillars, lower rooflines and smaller windows. Research in the US has concluded that when cars are fitted with blindspot detection systems, there’s a 23% reduction in the number of lane-change crashes resulting in injuries.

LANE-KEEPING ASSIST

LANE-KEEPING ASSIST

Lane-keeping assist is important because it helps to mitigate high-speed head-on and partial head-on collisions, which result in a far higher percentage of deaths and serious injuries than low-speed shunts.

Two levels of the technology are available: systems that simply alert you if your car starts to veer into a different lane and ones that do so and then actively steer the car back onto the correct path. Lane departure alerts use cameras to identify lane markings and then send a visual signal to the driver, often shown on the dashboard, and a beeping sound when the car is unintentionally about to cross into another lane. Provided you indicate before making the manoeuvre, the system won’t activate.

The newer technology is lane-keeping assist (as featured in the Kia Sorento, pictured), which steers the car back into its lane and slows it down if necessary after sending a warning that you’re heading onto the wrong side of the road. The steering input is subtle and is easy to override if required. Most systems also only work above 40mph so that they don’t annoy drivers in urban environments by reacting every time the car crosses onto the wrong side of narrow streets to get around parked cars.

THE FUTURE

THE FUTURE

What future safety technology is on the way? The majority of the latest cars do a great job of protecting their occupants in a crash in terms of their structure and ability to absorb impacts – known as passive safety – as well as the fitment of seatbelts and airbags, so there’s less room for improvement when it comes to crash test standards. This has led safety experts to concentrate on advanced driver assistance systems that can prevent crashes from happening in the first place.

“It’s no longer about protecting occupants in an accident, but assessing how capable a car is of braking and steering automatically to avoid other vehicles, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians,” says Thatcham chief executive Peter Shaw. He adds that Euro NCAP’s Roadmap 2025 plan “lays the foundation for safety assessment of future autonomous vehicles”.

And autonomous vehicles will need a vast range of safety systems, as you’d expect, as pictured.

AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY STEERING

AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY STEERING

This means that we can expect to see a range of improvements and enhancements to automatic steering and braking systems – technologies known as advanced driver assist systems.

Other manufacturers are likely to follow Volvo’s lead and introduce systems that aim to prevent cars from being involved in head-on collisions or running off the edge of the road by fitting an automatic steering function.

The next step on from this will be automatic emergency steering, which doesn’t gently steer a car back on course but takes over from the driver and reacts strongly to avoid an impending impact. Just as AEB stops the car if a crash is imminent, automatic emergency steering will steer the car out of trouble and then slow it down.

To encourage all car makers to follow the lead of those at the forefront of safety technology development, from 2020, Euro NCAP’s overall ratings will include a score for each new model’s lane-keeping assist system.

AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY STEERING: 2022

AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY STEERING: 2022

From 2022, Euro NCAP will begin testing cars’ automatic emergency steering functions, with a view to this becoming mandatory for a five-star rating soon afterwards.

Another focus will be on the ability of a car to detect and avoid collisions with a range of other road users. Presently, only the most sophisticated systems can identify pedestrians and cyclists, but a wider uptake of that technology will be encouraged in a bid to reduce the 23% of deaths and serious injuries involving these vulnerable road users. AEB will also be used to prevent accidents in other situations, such as when cars are pulling out of road junctions or reversing out of parking spaces.

AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY STEERING: GUIDED SOFT TARGET

AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY STEERING: GUIDED SOFT TARGET

In order to test these ever-evolving systems, Euro NCAP is continually adding new equipment to its crash testing armoury. Thatcham recently developed the Guided Soft Target, a fake car that’s solid enough to fool a driver assistance system into believing it’s another vehicle but won’t harm it if the system fails to react quickly enough to avoid an impact.

AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY STEERING: GUIDED SOFT TARGET

AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY STEERING: GUIDED SOFT TARGET

There are also dummy pedestrians that can be timed to walk or run out in front of a moving car to test its pedestrian-detecting AEB. And alongside the current bicycle riding dummy, there are plans to introduce a motorbike-riding one to test systems that aim to prevent collisions with motorcyclists.

WHAT ABOUT MONITORING DRIVERS?

WHAT ABOUT MONITORING DRIVERS?

Manufacturers are also introducing and improving their driver monitoring systems.

These also aim to address the high percentage of accidents that are caused by driver error by spotting when a driver is inattentive, distracted or too tired to drive. And in our ageing society, there’s growing concern over people suffering medical emergencies while driving.

So, although this means that some time soon your car will notice if you’re not paying enough attention while driving and reprimand you, this technology will be a significant building block towards creating the safe self-driving cars of the future.

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