How ef­fec­tive are ac­tive safety systems and what does the fu­ture hold for them?

Ac­tive safety systems are now com­mon­place on cars.we ex­plain why they’re so im­por­tant and what the next de­vel­op­ments will be Deaths on Bri­tish roads fell by 44% be­tween 2006 and 2016, down from 3172 to 1792

What Car? - - Contents - Claire Evans Claire.evans@hay­mar­ket.com

WHILE DRIV­ING AT 50mph, I de­lib­er­ately steered the car to­wards the white line sep­a­rat­ing me from on­com­ing traf­fic. As I got close to the edge of my lane, the car gen­tly steered it­self back into the cen­tre. I then changed tack and steered to­wards the grass verge, aim­ing to drive the car off the road, but as it neared the edge of the as­phalt, the steer­ing again cor­rected my er­ror and guided the car back into its lane.

I then took my hands off the steer­ing wheel com­pletely and let the car steer it­self along a straight stretch. For a short time, the car did ex­actly that, gen­tly guid­ing it­self away from the road’s edges whenever it veered off course. But then, even more clev­erly, it sensed that I wasn’t steer­ing, so it slowed down and stopped at the road­side, pre­vent­ing a po­ten­tial ac­ci­dent caused by driver drowsi­ness or sud­den ill­ness. (Don’t worry, I was doing all this on a test track, not a road.)

Au­to­matic steer­ing systems like that in the Volvo XC60 (our 2018 Safety Award win­ner) I was driv­ing are the next big thing in car safety. And it’s easy to un­der­stand why: 17% of in­ci­dents in which peo­ple are killed or se­ri­ously in­jured in the UK are head-on or par­tial head-on col­li­sions with other ve­hi­cles, while 15% in­volve a sin­gle ve­hi­cle leav­ing the car­riage­way or lane. In con­trast, ac­ci­dents in which a ve­hi­cle runs into the back of an­other ac­count for just 6% . Not all new cars have such an ex­ten­sive suite of ac­tive safety aids as the XC60, but there are some systems safety ex­perts be­lieve should be in­cluded on all new cars. These essen­tials are au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing (AEB), blindspot de­tec­tion and lane-keep­ing as­sist.

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 test­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion.

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

That’s why, from the start of this year, 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?

There are four types of tech­nol­ogy used on AEB systems: lidar, radar, cam­era and systems that com­bine radar and cam­era. Lidar sen­sors 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.

Road deaths rose for the rst time in six years in 2016, up to 1792 from 1732 in 2015. That equates to ve deaths per day

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

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.

Systems that use both radar and cam­er­aderived 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 XC60.

What’s 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.

What’s 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, 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 A fake car is used to see at what speeds a car’s AEB will work of nar­row streets to get around parked cars.

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”.

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 headon 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.

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

Euro NCAP re­leased its rst re­sults in Fe­bru­ary 1997; a one-star rat­ing for the Rover 100 re­sulted in the car be­ing with­drawn from sale soon af­ter­wards Anti-lock brakes be­came a le­gal re­quire­ment on all new cars in 2004 ‘The ma­jor­ity of the lat­est cars do a great job of pro­tect­ing their oc­cu­pants in a crash’

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.

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. 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 bi­cy­clerid­ing dummy, there are plans to in­tro­duce a mo­tor­bike-rid­ing one to test systems that aim to pre­vent col­li­sions with mo­tor­cy­clists.

‘Au­to­matic emer­gency steer­ing will re­act strongly to avoid an im­pact’

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.

Wear­ing a seat­belt in the front seats be­came manda­tory in 1983, although rear seat pas­sen­gers didn’t have to wear them un­til 1987

AEB systems iden­tify other ve­hi­cles us­ing lidar, radar and cam­eras

Dummy cars, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans test AEB; in the fu­ture, they’ll test au­to­matic emer­gency steer­ing, too

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