Putting the brakes on bad driving habits

Rising accident rates and death tolls show that drivers are becoming more distracted so they fail to steer away from hazards or choose inappropriate speeds. Data shows that people become distracted and fail to brake so in the future cars will do that for us automatically. In fact sooner than we think.

An agreement was recently reached between the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and 20 automakers that represent nearly the entire US auto market, that by 2022 nearly every American car will be equipped with automatic emergency braking.

The AEB systems are part of the technological march toward an age of autonomous vehicles. The use of on-car sensors such as cameras, lasers and radar to detect an imminent crash and apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t act quickly enough is imminent.

The automakers signed up are Audi, BMW, FCA US LLC, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, KIA, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla Motors Inc., Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo Cars.

Having vehicles with automatic braking can reduce rear-end crashes by about 40%, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates.

As reported for regulators and the insurance industry, technology that slows or stops cars when drivers fail to react to obstacles is a no-brainer. The systems have been better than expected in preventing accidents and injuries, based on test data submitted by Volvo and other producers. In addition, the costs of implementing automatic braking have fallen steadily and are on track to become even less expensive.

Automatic braking really only requires two major elements – sensing obstacles (cars, trees, guardrails, buildings) and the ability to apply the brakes. Radar, laser, and sonic sensors have become very inexpensive throughout the past five years. In addition, strict fuel-economy standards already have many automakers replacing heavy hydraulic braking systems with lighter electric ones – systems that can be computer controlled. The componentry side is therefore already moving toward self-braking vehicles.

Sophisticated algorithms will use different tactics to decide how aggressively to respond to traffic obstacles, so there will be plenty spent on software. However, there’s still a long way to go before autonomous driving becomes reality. Besides having in-car safety technology, vehicles will need to be able to “talk” to one another and with roadway infrastructures in order to move about efficiently and safely.

The mind boggles at what can be incorporated into a vehicle in future. For many of us, we will welcome any technology that will help to improve our safety and driving experience. It is not an impossibility to think that onboard sensors and cameras will detect bad and aggressive driving, un-roadworthy vehicles or drivers that are driving under the influence of alcohol. It will take a commitment from authorities to make it compulsory that vehicles are equipped with technology that will not allow the vehicle to exceed the speed limit designated to an area. Or for example, have photographic evidence of your bad driving and then not allowing the vehicle to move until your resultant fines are paid.

What we may not realise is that the building blocks towards self-driving cars are already in today’s vehicles, and the technology is constantly improving and becoming increasingly well-trusted by those who have experienced it. This is a first step toward making drivers comfortable with a future in which cars will drive themselves – for our safety.