An industry’s epiphany: Cars that save lives

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - War­ren Brown war­ren.brown@wash­

The idea is to pre­vent the un­ex­pected from be­com­ing the trag­i­cally fi­nal.

That is the real story be­hind the out­burst of acronyms char­ac­ter­iz­ing the tech­nol­ogy of the 2016 Subaru Forester 2XT Tour­ing and hun­dreds of other new cars and trucks. Af­ter decades of pre­tend­ing that safety does not mat­ter, that more horse­power is al­ways bet­ter, that the only real driv­ing con­cern is find­ing an empty road on which to “take cor­ners,” the au­to­mo­bile industry is tired of killing peo­ple — or, at least, of help­ing to speed them to their deaths.

That sounds harsh, I know. But I’ve spent the past two years look­ing at de­vel­op­ments in the global au­to­mo­bile industry, and the con­clu­sion is un­mis­tak­able.

El­mar De­gen­hart, chair­man of the ex­ec­u­tive board at the Ger­many au­toparts gi­ant Con­ti­nen­tal, bluntly put it this way in a talk last month at the Frank­furt Mo­tor Show: “Zero ac­ci­dents are no longer a utopia.”

Con­ti­nen­tal and nu­mer­ous other industry sup­pli­ers, as well as orig­i­nale­quip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Subaru, Gen­eral Mo­tors, Mercedes-Benz and South Korea’s Hyundai, are pour­ing bil­lions of dol­lar equiv­a­lents into tech­nol­ogy now largely mar­keted un­der the rubrics “driver-as­sis­tance sys­tems” and “ad­vanced driver-as­sis­tance sys­tems” (DAS and ADAS).

“The key to zero ac­ci­dents is as­sisted driv­ing,” De­gen­hart said. He said his com­pany be­lieves the steady de­vel­op­ment of as­sisted-driv­ing tech­nolo­gies, al­ready found in nu­mer­ous cars and trucks sold in the United States, even­tu­ally will lead to au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, op­er­ated with­out hu­man steer­ing in­put.

The 2016 Forester is a long way from that, as are most new ve­hi­cles cur­rently avail­able in this mar­ket. But the Forester 2XT and many of its sib­lings of­fer valu­able tech­ni­cal in­sights.

The acronyms help tell the story: ABC (ac­tive body con­trol), AEB (au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing), LDW (lanede­par­ture warn­ing) but no BSD (blindspot de­tec­tion)! And ESC (elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol), and FCW (for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing) — the list goes on.

Re­searchers at the Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group, a trans­porta­tion-safety study firm, say the de­vel­op­ment of driveras­sis­tance tech­nolo­gies since 1984, a year mark­ing the mass mar­ket­ing of ABS — anti-lock brak­ing sys­tems, which help pre­vent skids — is pre­vent­ing 10,000 U.S. traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties an­nu­ally. That is no small thing, con­sid­er­ing his­tor­i­cal U.S. av­er­ages of deaths 40,000 a year.

World­wide, ac­cord­ing to World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion es­ti­mates, 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple a year die in traf­fic crashes.

Sub­stan­tially re­duc­ing or com­pletely elim­i­nat­ing that num­ber, as op­posed to tak­ing the task or joy of driv­ing from the driver, is the pri­mary ob­jec­tive of the kind of driver-as­sis­tance tech­nol­ogy I sam­pled in the Forester 2XT, ac­cord­ing to De­gen­hart and other pro­po­nents of the new tech­nol­ogy.

I did not feel cheated. Nor was I lulled into the kind of inat­ten­tive­ness that could lead to ac­ci­dents, re­gard­less of a car’s crash-preven­tion/mit­i­ga­tion equip­ment. But there is some­thing good to be said of tech­nol­ogy that mon­i­tors your driv­ing be­hav­ior, or sig­nals that a diver in front of you has in­ex­pli­ca­bly hit the brakes, or that re­lieves the stress of back­ing out of a drive­way onto a street that your fel­low mo­torists are us­ing as a race­track.

Speed de­mons won’t ap­pre­ci­ate the Forester 2XT’s tur­bocharged (forced air) 2-liter flat four-cylin­der gaso­line en­gine (250 horse­power, 258 pound-feet of torque). The base 2.5-liter gaso­line four of­fers 170 horse­power and 174 pound-feet of torque — not ex­actly the stuff of high­per­for­mance leg­end. No mat­ter. The Forester 2XT is an all-wheel-drive fam­ily hauler. All I care is that it gets me and mine to where we are go­ing as safely and com­fort­ably as pos­si­ble at an af­ford­able fuel cost. The 2016 model does that.

“The key to zero ac­ci­dents is as­sisted driv­ing.” El­mar De­gen­hart, chair­man of the ex­ec­u­tive board at Con­ti­nen­tal


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