There has been ongoing progress in the automotive industry with regards to safety. Some of the new technologies are rather impressive, too.
Did you know that there are more than 4,000 fatalities in the United States annually caused by vehicle accidents with pedestrians? Car safety technicians and auto designers are working to make cars safer for those crossing the road. For example, the lower hood of a car may make it look faster or more sporting, but it also will help a pedestrian in an accident fall on the hood, rather than just get bashed head-on. When they hit the hood, it won’t be as damaging, because there is space designed around the hood and the front bumper of a car to allow a little more give, and the hoods are generally made of plastic. This reduces impact on a pedestrian’s head and torso. Other things that may be less noticeable are the absence of hood ornaments, components designed to break if a force such as a pedestrian hits them, or car handles that are more flush with the car’s body.
Think of the people who normally ride in the rear seat. Generally, it’s children or the elderly. Whoever sits there, if the car has an accident, they don’t have the protections of people in the front, such as air bags. Or, well, they didn’t. Ford is building seat belts that inflate upon impact, acting like an air bag to distribute the force across a wider area of the body. These thicker seatbelts made of webbing are also more comfortable and therefore may encourage people to wear them, allowing the airbag (and seatbelt) to actually function as they were designed to.
If you’re distracted, drowsy, or just not paying attention, you could easily slip into another lane or off the road and cause or be the sole victim of an accident. Crashing is a generally undesirable outcome of a drive, so preventing such lane deviation is another thing auto makers have been focusing on. Lane departure warning systems generally consist of a camera on the rearview mirror that watches the lines in front of the car, monitoring to make sure the car stays between the lanes. If it looks like the car is drifting, it alerts the driver. Such alerts could include an alarm, a vibrating steering wheel, an image on the dashboard, or some combination of these. Some even gently guide the car back into the lane through nudges to the steering or cautious braking. These systems generally consider an unscheduled lane departure to be anything not involving the blinker, so they have the added benefit of making it less likely that someone will change lanes without alerting the cars following.
This is where things start to get really high-tech. Imagine if your car could communicate with every other car on the road, or even the road infrastructure itself, to find out if it’s suddenly slowing down, if there’s an accident or traffic jam up ahead, or if that traffic light in front of you is about to turn red. This technology is a step in that direction, and if it’s implemented, it will be able to do most of that already. A video posted by Wired shows a car alerting its driver that a light ahead has turned red, and the optimal speed to drive to miss the red light completely. Just after this, it tells the driver that a car has had an accident on the side of the road a little in front of them.
If you realized that, in the first section, the car improvements mostly have the effect of reducing damage and not of avoiding impact altogether, good job. But you were getting ahead of me. A little while ago, we talked about the new Nissan and its drive-by-wire technology. If you read that, you may have seen the bit about Nissan connecting their electric steering to their safety system. Essentially, it combines the warning system of the lane deviation with the concern for pedestrians or anything else in the way, then adds autonomy on top of that. Say something shows up in a car’s path unexpectedly. The car will immediately alert the driver, map the surroundings, and plan an escape route. If the driver doesn’t react in time, the car will automatically follow that escape route, steering itself around the obstacle or braking, as it deems necessary.
These are just a few of the things put in place to make you safer in your car, and to make everyone on the road safer from the cars near them. If safety features like these continue to be implemented, you could find yourself as safe on the road as in your own home. Perhaps even safer.