Here’s the avoid­ance tech that will re­move the hu­man er­ror from ve­hi­cle crashes

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - COVER STORY - BILL McKIN­NON

More than 90 per cent of road crashes are caused by “hu­man mis­takes,” ac­cord­ing to Euro NCAP. This in­cludes nearly ev­ery type of driver be­hav­iour, from law break­ing — speed­ing, driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol or drugs and, pre­sum­ably, us­ing a mo­bile phone — to hu­man er­ror, such as fa­tigue, dis­trac­tion and just not pay­ing at­ten­tion.

Euro NCAP also iden­ti­fies sud­den med­i­cal in­ca­pac­i­ta­tion — a seizure, stroke or heart at­tack — as a grow­ing fac­tor in crashes, a con­se­quence of our age­ing so­ci­ety.

It’s no co­in­ci­dence, then, that safety tech­nol­ogy today fo­cuses on crash avoid­ance. Seat­belts, airbags and so­phis­ti­cated im­pact ab­sorb­ing struc­tures that can help pro­tect you in a crash have saved many lives but tech­nol­ogy that can for­give and cor­rect “hu­man mis­takes” be­fore they have griev­ous con­se­quences is the holy grail of safety engi­neer­ing.

The fully au­ton­o­mous, self-driv­ing car that will take you where you want to go with zero risk of a crash is still a life­time away but today many new cars have very ef­fec­tive and worth­while crash pre­ven­tion tech­nol­ogy.

Here’s a guide to the good stuff and how it works. We have used com­mon acronyms but man­u­fac­tur­ers use vary­ing names for the same tech­nol­ogy.


AEB: This uses radar and/or cam­eras to mon­i­tor the road ahead and in an emer­gency can au­to­mat­i­cally ap­ply the brakes, usu­ally af­ter giv­ing you au­di­ble and/or vis­ual warn­ings that you’re at risk of a col­li­sion if you don’t brake. Right now.

Read the fine print, though. Some op­er­ate only at low speed — look for the word “City” in the name — while oth­ers merely slow the car or in­crease brak­ing pres­sure when you are al­ready hard on the pedal, some­times re­ferred to as “As­sist” or “Mit­i­ga­tion”.

The best bring you to a com­plete stop from any speed — the laws of physics per­mit­ting — and can de­tect cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans as well as other cars. A few top-end sys­tems can also stop your car from en­ter­ing an in­ter­sec­tion or making a turn if there’s a risk of be­ing T-boned, or col­lid­ing with an on­com­ing ve­hi­cle.

AEB is some­times pack­aged with adap­tive cruise con­trol (ACC) as ex­ten­sions of the same tech­nol­ogy. Adap­tive cruise will main­tain a set speed, as in con­ven­tional cruise con­trol, but will also keep a safe gap to the car in front, or an­other car moving into your path, if nec­es­sary by slow­ing or, in an emer­gency, stop­ping your car. Most ACC sys­tems al­low you to vary the dis­tance at which in­ter­ven­tion oc­curs but AEB re­mains ac­tive as a last re­sort.


BSM: Keeps an “eye” on the ad­ja­cent lane, with a light on each side mir­ror il­lu­mi­nated when a ve­hi­cle is in your blind spot. Some types will also sound a warn­ing if you try to move into the lane when a ve­hi­cle is along­side. It’s par­tic­u­larly help­ful in the cut and thrust of city traf­fic. Mo­tor­cy­cle riders will love you for hav­ing it.


The rear cam­era is almost uni­ver­sal now. Some set-ups also in­cor­po­rate mul­ti­ple views, in­clud­ing for­ward, kerb­side, 180 de­grees rear and 360 de­grees over­head. Given the re­stricted vi­sion around many new cars, caused by thick pil­lars and high rear decks, sur­round cam­eras can help avoid those tragic sce­nar­ios where young chil­dren are run over in sub­ur­ban drive­ways. At the very least, they can help you achieve a ding-free fu­ture.


This can be as sim­ple as flash­ing a “take a break” warn­ing light ev­ery two hours, or much more so­phis­ti­cated, with sen­sors mon­i­tor­ing the way you steer the car. If they de­tect the char­ac­ter­is­tic swerve then over­cor­rect mo­tion that’s of­ten a sign of fa­tigue, you’ll get a warn­ing.

New semi-au­ton­o­mous steer­ing from BMW and Mercedes will ac­tu­ally stop the car if you don’t re­spond to re­peated warn­ings to take con­trol, on the premise that you may have lost con­scious­ness.


LDW, LKA: At the ba­sic warn­ing level, a cam­era sees the lane mark­ings ahead and you are warned if you get too close to them with­out hav­ing used your in­di­ca­tor. Some also vi­brate the steer­ing wheel to get your at­ten­tion.

Lane keep­ing or as­sist ex­tends this ca­pa­bil­ity by au­to­mat­i­cally, and gen­tly, steer­ing your car back into your lane. It can be a bit hap­haz­ard be­cause it re­lies on bright, clear lines on the bi­tu­men, which of­ten don’t ex­ist in Aus­tralia. For the same rea­son, lane keep­ing is of­ten in­ef­fec­tive in low light and at night.

The most ad­vanced ver­sions can also help you steer around an ob­sta­cle in an emer­gency, or de­tect and cor­rect a po­ten­tial run­ning-offthe-road sce­nario by tak­ing con­trol of the steer­ing, but this also re­lies on clear road mark­ings for ref­er­ence.


If you do a lot of night driv­ing, es­pe­cially in coun­try ar­eas, check these out. Mul­ti­ple LEDs in each light unit are con­trolled by sen­sors and cam­eras that can ad­just the depth, spread and in­ten­sity of the beam up to 100 times a se­cond.

They throw a deep, broad, white light and au­to­mat­i­cally de­ac­ti­vate only the LEDs that beam di­rectly at an ap­proach­ing car, to avoid daz­zling the driver, with no com­pro­mise to the in­ten­sity or spread of the re­main­ing beam. Linked to steer­ing sen­sors, they also il­lu­mi­nate the car’s pre­cise track around cor­ners.

Some con­ven­tional bi-xenon lights also have auto dip­ping high-beam and cor­ner­ing func­tions but adap­tive LEDs are the fu­ture.


RCTA: This works just like AEB when you’re re­vers­ing. Cam­eras, radar and sen­sors mon­i­tor what’s going on be­hind the car. If there’s a per­son or an ob­ject close by, you’ll get an au­di­ble warn­ing and an im­age on the in­fo­tain­ment screen. A few ex­am­ples will ac­tu­ally stop the car. Rear Cross Traf­fic Alert does ex­actly what it says and is es­pe­cially use­ful when re­vers­ing out of park­ing bays in shop­ping cen­tres, out of your drive­way, or in those towns that man­date nose-in street park­ing, where the council could be get­ting a sling from the lo­cal pan­el­beat­ers.

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