Soon you’ll have to be a real dummy to get in­volved in a smash, let alone a deadly one, writes Paul Gover in Stuttgart

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Technology Update -

THE big­gest road-safety break­through since the three-point seat­belt is lit­er­ally just around the cor­ner. It is cars that can­not— and will not — crash.

In­stead of driv­ing blindly into an im­pact, the new gen­er­a­tion of su­per-safe fu­ture cars will first warn the driver of po­ten­tial dan­ger and then — if a crash can­not be avoided — do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to min­imise the im­pact.

Test pro­grams are al­ready un­der way in Europe and the US with the tech­nol­ogy needed for the sys­tems and car mak­ers are look­ing for gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try part­ners to pro­vide the in­fra­struc­ture that’s es­sen­tial to make their dream a re­al­ity.

‘‘We’re try­ing to avoid the ac­ci­dent in the first place, and then re­duce the sever­ity of any crash,’’ says Dr Jo­erg Breuer, head of ac­tive safety at Mercedes-Benz in Ger­many.

His work fo­cuses on the sys­tems used be­fore a crash, not the airbags and body pro­tec­tion that are trig­gered by an im­pact.

This means ev­ery­thing from the ABS anti-skid brakes and ESP sta­bil­ity con­trol, which are now vir­tu­ally uni­ver­sal in Aus­tralian show­rooms, to the lat­est cam­era-based safety sys­tems — ac­tive cruise con­trol, lane de­par­ture warn­ing and even au­to­matic brak­ing— fit­ted to up­scale lux­ury cars.

But Breuer, like his coun­ter­parts at the safety-first Volvo com­pany, says tech­nol­ogy will not take over com­pletely from a ca­pa­ble driver.

‘‘We are mainly work­ing to avoid ac­ci­dents. If you take out the driver you re­duce the ef­fec­tive­ness of the whole sys­tem,’’ he says.

But the long-term goal — about 2020 — at Benz is sim­i­lar to the fo­cus at the world’s largest car com­pany, Toy­ota, which has set an am­bi­tion that even­tu­ally no one should die in one of the com­pany’s cars.

‘‘We have this vi­sion for ac­ci­dent­free driv­ing,’’ Breuer says.

To get from to­day— where head-on

We think we can re­duce rear-end crashes by 30 per cent with radar. We will see it in a few years

crashes are rel­a­tively com­mon­place and the road toll is a reg­u­lar topic in the me­dia— to the no-crash fu­ture will take a lot of work and a lot of money.

But Breuer says the tech­nol­ogy al­ready ex­ists.

It is built around ac­tive sys­tems that take warn­ings about haz­ards — from road­side trans­mit­ters or other cars —and con­verts in into a warn­ing to the driver or, in a po­ten­tial crash sit­u­a­tion, into au­to­matic brak­ing to stop a car be­fore it can hit an­other ve­hi­cle.

Cars­Guide first sam­pled a car-to-car warn­ing sys­tem more than five years ago at BMW, which was ex­per­i­ment­ing with a sys­tem that would turn traf­fic into a mo­bile ‘‘in­ter­net’’ with all cars com­mu­ni­cat­ing on a sec­ond-by-sec­ond ba­sis.

So if one car trig­gered its ABS brakes, or the driver ac­ti­vated the wipers, it would warn other cars of the sit­u­a­tion.

Breuer and the ac­tive safety team at Mercedes-Benz — sev­eral hun­dred en­gi­neers with an an­nual bud­get of more than $50 mil­lion — have a sim­i­lar sys­tem but also want gov­ern­ments to es­tab­lish an ac­tive road net­work.

So trans­mit­ters would warn about road­works, school zones, tight bends and other fixed haz­ards and trig­ger an alarm in­side a car.

To pre­vent car-to-car crashes, Benz sees a day when cars will ‘‘talk’’ to other ve­hi­cles in close range and up­date their po­si­tion to pre­vent po­ten­tial crashes.

So one car will warn an­other when it is ap­proach­ing a junc­tion, just in case the driver can­not see or is not pay­ing at­ten­tion.

Cars will also ad­vise other cars of their speed and direc­tion on open roads, so driv­ers know if there is an over­tak­ing haz­ard lurk­ing over a crest or around a blind bend.

Even with­out car-to-car and road­side warn­ings, Breuer pre­dicts a rapid fall in crashes in com­ing years as cam­era-based sys­tems pro­vide bet­ter warn­ings to driv­ers.

‘‘We think we can re­duce rear-end crashes by 30 per cent with radar. We will see it in a few years,’’ he says.

And Volvo al­ready has its radar­based City Safety pro­gram, which warns if a car is too close to the ve­hi­cle ahead, and a Pedes­trian Safety sys­tem that iden­ti­fies pedes­tri­ans and will brake a car au­to­mat­i­cally at low speeds to avoid a col­li­sion.

Heads up: A Mercedes-Benz crash test show­ing dum­mies with hats on to repli­cate a typ­i­cal crash in a con­vert­ible.

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