Its4women.co.uk - Would you trust a car that can drive
At its4women.co.uk car insurance we are always looking for ways
to promote safe driving. Every year, 1.3 million people are killed
and 50 million injured on the world's roads.
Most people rate their ability to drive a motor vehicle very
highly, but would you allow a car to drive itself ?
Carmakers are racing to create a vehicle that will never crash,
but can it be done and will drivers accept a computer that
overrides their driving?
Less than 30 years ago, "clunk clicking"
ourselves into our car seat belts seemed like the cutting edge of
road safety technology.
Since then, we've seen airbags, anti-lock
braking systems and crumple zones fitted to new cars.
Now the arrival of crash avoidance
technology - systems that can alert drivers to danger and even take
action to prevent accidents from happening - promises to cut the
number of crashes on our roads.
So confident is Volvo of the power of its
technology, it has pledged that beyond the year 2020,
no-one will be killed or seriously injured in one of its new
cars. In essence, the Swedish manufacturer is aiming to build a
vehicle that will fully protect its occupants and crash less.
"The major cause of crashes is the driver
not paying attention or drivers being distracted. This technology
is giving cars eyes and knows when the driver fails," explains
Thomas Broberg, Volvo's senior technical adviser for safety at the
company's research centre in Gothenburg.
Top causes of crashes
*Recorded by police at scene. Percentages
may not tally as multiple categories can be selected. Source: Dept
1. Driver/rider error
2. Injudicious action
3. Behaviour or inexperience
4. Road environment
5. Pedestrian error
Other carmakers are making similar
commitments. Toyota says it is aiming for zero fatalities and
injuries, although it has not yet said when that goal would be
achieved. And Ford is already marketing its new Focus - with its
self-proclaimed "intelligent protection system" - as one of the
safest vehicles on the mass market.
So what is the latest technology and can it
really prevent crashes?
Systems that monitor blind spots and track
the alertness of drivers, and electronic stability control - which
can detect and help prevent a skid - are already being introduced
to many new vehicles. Some cars also now have adaptive headlights
that improve night-time visibility by pivoting around bends, as
well as instruments that warn of a potential collision or when a
vehicle drifts out of a motorway lane.
up to 70% of crashes caused by driver or rider error, these
measures are widely expected to help reduce the number of
One study by the US Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety has estimated that four of the currently available
features - lane departure warning, forward collision warning, blind
spot detection and adaptive headlights - could prevent or mitigate
one out of every three fatal crashes and one out of every five
crashes that result in serious or moderate injury.
While most people would welcome measures
that assist motorists to make wiser decisions, systems that
actively intervene in the driving process cause more
Research is being done on autonomous braking
technology, which can stop a car when other vehicles or obstacles
get too close, and lane-keeping support, which applies a correcting
force through the steering if the driver drifts out of their
The manufacturers are also developing
adaptive cruise control, which can automatically maintain a safe
speed and distance from other vehicles, and intelligent speed
adaptation, which can, in its most active form, prevent a driver
exceeding the speed limit.
Research into effectiveness is in its
infancy. A 2008 EU study by the Finnish VTT Technical Research
Centre found the most promising technology after electronic
stability control - compulsory in new cars in Europe - was a system
preventing a driver straying from a motorway lane. It estimated that
they could reduce deaths by about 15%.
The same researchers found that functions
warning drivers they were exceeding the speed limit and of other
potential hazards would cut fatalities by 13% and that emergency
braking assistance and driver drowsiness warnings could potentially
reduce deaths by 7% and 5% respectively.
However, other studies have been more
optimistic. The US Highway Loss Data Institute found that 27% fewer
insurance claims were made against cars fitted with Volvo's City
Safety system, which uses autonomous braking technology to
avoid front-to-rear low-speed crashes. And University of Leeds
research has found that speed-limiting technology
can reduce crashes causing injuries by almost 28%.