Tests in the United States on wireless technology to improve vehicle safety by ‘connecting’ vehicles to each other with ‘Wi-Fi’ like technology carried out earlier this year were a resounding success, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA).
The NHTSA has been working with The Research and Innovation Technology Administration and a collection of carmakers including Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai-Kia America, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and VW Group to ascertain whether this type of technology can allow cars to sense danger and avoid collisions better than the human driver, thus saving lives. The overall program is named the Connected Vehicle Safety Program.
In the United States there were over 32,000 deaths in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2011, so a system that automatically adjusts vehicle behaviour would clearly be a massive benefit to road users. Unsurprisingly, the driver clinic test showed 82% of people would want the technology in their own car.
Elements of the technologies being considered are already in use in the latest cars on our roads today, with passive features such as Lane Departure Systems, which warn the driver when their vehicle wanders into another lane and Blind Spot Warnings which let the driver know of vehicles in adjacent lanes being two that advise the driver of issues.
There are also examples that feature more active safety, such as Collision Avoidance Systems which feature automatic braking when a driver is too close to the car in front, often in conjunction with Adaptive Cruise Control which maintains a safe distance from the vehicle in front by sensing the distance from the following car.
The key difference between the proposed technologies and current standard is that most existing systems rely on radar or infra red signals to assess danger, and are limited to one vehicle/driver deciding what the course of action should be. New technologies being considered connect cars to each other, allowing both cars and both drivers to be alerted of danger, and either passively via warnings or actively via intervention, to do something about it. They could also allow communication with traffic signals, road signs and other traffic calming measures. In a perfect world this technology would stop 100% of accidents and save lots of lives, but new vehicles typically have shelf lives of 12-15 years, so even if every new vehicle was fitted with the full technologies available now, it could be a while before safety improvements filtered through to improved accident statistics. However, it is a great credit to the organisations involved that they are trying hard to improve matters.