While a future of motorways full of self-driving cars is still a long way off, smaller technological developments are already helping to reduce human error and improve road safety. This gradual creep began in the late 1980s with the introduction of measures like traction control, and has continued to improve safety and the driving experience. There have been numerous new innovations ever since.
Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is an excellent example of this. By recognising a potential obstacle and applying the brakes if the driver doesn’t react, AEB could help to prevent many low-speed collisions and minimise the damage caused by high-speed incidents.
However, as manufacturers continue to innovate each new model, it is going to become easier to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of features when driving an unfamiliar car. These are some of the most common features that you might come across:
Street parking has always been a notorious challenge, and with more cars on the roads than ever before, it isn’t going to get any easier to find a space. Enter automatic parking. There are many different versions available, most using a combination of cameras and sensors to eliminate the difficulty of this challenge. While automatic parking is a feature that is well understood, few cars actually have this feature as standard.
The UK government is looking to change this with a plan to have entirely self-driving cars on the road by 2021. As a step towards this, it was announced in December 2017 that remote controlled parking would soon be allowed on public roads, allowing drivers to get into tight spaces and adjust their vehicle standing nearby, reducing the risk of bumps and scrapes. Due to the legal restriction this feature has been uncommon, but it is now expected to be rapidly adopted.
Alertness and lane monitoring
One of the biggest risks when embarking on a long-distance drive is the effect of tiredness or lapses in concentration from the driver. Lane monitoring tracks road markings to alert the driver if the vehicle begins to drift without indicating. Most of these systems use an alarm or warning symbol, but some will also adjust the steering. While this is a very useful tool for long-haul drivers, systems like this are unlikely to benefit other types of drivers due to the large variety of road types typical driver experiences.
In close traffic and on long journeys, it can be very easy to lose concentration for a few seconds. To combat this, alertness sensors are a popular inclusion that will react to drifting or sudden changes in speed in order to make sure that the driver remains alert.
Blind spot sensor
While blind spots are something that drivers should check almost instinctively, they can be problematic on larger vehicles or at night. Mirrors help to some extent, but they can cause distortion and make distances difficult to judge.
A blind spot system uses a combination of cameras and sensors to help the driver make sure that their blind spot is free of cars and bikes before changing lanes, helping to reduce collisions caused by a lack of visibility.
Systems like this often also include a rear-view camera which can help to judge the distance behind the car. This is an incredibly popular feature as, in conjunction with a parking sensor, it can be very useful when reversing or parking.
A risk with so much technological support is that drivers develop a complacency and over-reliance on the technology. It is vital that drivers remain fully engaged and focussed throughout the drive should something go wrong, but with sensors to keep the car in lane, check blind spots and even park on arrival, it is easy to see how these safety measures could lead to a false sense of security.
One method of ensuring full engagement is the growth of ‘black box’ drive tracking devices, which are now commonly offered by insurance companies. Using GPS to track speed, braking and accelerating, the devices report back on how well the vehicle is being driven and can result in discounts on vehicle insurance for safe drivers. For this reason, using devices like this could reduce the cost of learner driver insurance.
While many safety features could be seen to be removing responsibility from the driver, these devices are making the roads safer by using technology to make sure that drivers maintain their concentration at all times.
Many of these features are being introduced in high-end new cars but it could be some time before the majority of motorists have access to these features. As they become more common – as electric windows, central locking and cruise control have in the past – modern technology is likely to help the roads become a much safer place.