TRICKY WITH THE TECHY! | Feature -Stuart Martin checks out the safety benefits of new technology

Stuart Martin checks out the safety benefits of new technology

The automotive world is moving ever faster to adopt new technology to help those behind the wheel avoid accidents or at least mitigate the results.

The adoption of modern active-safety technology is taking place far more quickly than the implementation of earlier safety systems, such as anti-lock brakes and airbags, which slowly trickled down to mid-range motoring from top-end luxury models.

What started as a trickle has now become a flood – adaptive-cruise control, lane keeping, semi-automated steering and automatic emergency braking are becoming more common-place in the broader automotive market, including light commercial vehicles.

The benefits are considerable, with the potential for insurance premium discounts, a reduction in lost business by reducing the incidence of vehicle damage and less risk of personal injury. Some of these over-riding interactive systems are self-explanatory, but others, such as automatic emergency braking (AEB) perhaps need further explanation.

AEB is a system that uses visual and aural means to alert the driver prior to an impending impact, as well as making available maximum brake-force when the brake pedal is pushed. It gathers the necessary information in advance of the incident occurring by using an array of lasers, radar, sensors and cameras (sometimes a combination of all of the aforementioned) to detect and assess the situation.

Should the driver not take the appropriate action, a growing number of AEB systems will brake to avoid or reduce the severity of an impact. Time needs to be spent by the driver to understand the system fitted to a specific vehicle as they do not all operate in the same way.

Some systems only operate in low-speed city driving, with high-speed systems looking further ahead (typically on top-end German machines built for autobahn work). Other systems relate to pedestrian detection and this feature is fast becoming more common.

Accident preparation is also becoming more common. If you’ve been in a new vehicle recently and noticed the seatbelt gives you a little “hug” as the vehicle got underway, that’s a sign it has a system that will prepare seatbelts, windows and brakes for an impending crash. It’s all there to support the driver, who for whatever reason has been distracted from their primary task.

That protective and interactive role is being reinforced by the Australian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) which has been running active displays for consumers to get first-hand experience of the system in operation, albeit driving toward a simulated obstacle in the form of a blow-up inflated dummy vehicle.

ANCAP’s communications and advocacy director Rhianne Robson said the lifesaving automotive technology was not a substitute for the human behind the wheel.

“It’s extremely important to understand that it doesn’t replace the driver but assists them in emergency situations. We do not want people to become complacent, thinking that the car will react independently of the driver to every developing situation to save them. But if the car detects an obstacle in front of the car that is obstructing a clear path in the traffic, it will brake to avoid that impact,” she said.

Ms. Robson said the independent vehicle safety authority was urging vehicle buyers to prioritise this technology when shopping for a new vehicle.

“It’s available on close to 60 per cent of new vehicles sold. We want consumers to experience it so that they know it’s available and be aware of the benefits and limitations.”

“We want to see consumers look for vehicles with this technology fitted and where possible purchase a car with AEB. It really does have life-saving benefits and if we can lower the average age of the vehicles fleet, we’ll see the road safety benefits transfer,” she added.

ANCAP released market research towards the end of last year that sampled 363 vehicle models, totalling 80,000 light-vehicle sales during June 2019, according to the VFacts New Vehicle Sales Report in Australia.

Of the top 100 selling light-vehicle models – which accounted for around 71,000 sales or 89 per cent of the market – 60 included AEB as standard equipment. A further 10 (about 9 percent or 7000 of the sales that month) included AEB on top-spec models but didn’t offer it as an option elsewhere in the range. Nine brands offered an AEB option on the entry-level model, but 21 models – or 10,000 of the vehicles sold that month – were not offered with any form of AEB.

As an example of how fast this technology is being applied to today’s vehicles, back in December 2015 the technology was standard on just six models or 3 percent of vehicles on sale; optional on a further 11 models, fitted only to 16 higher variants; and not available at all on 67 models, or about 55 percent of the market.

The light-commercial segment’s top two fighters – Ford’s Ranger and the Toyota’s Hilux – have retained high-flyer status in sales terms by offering AEB as standard for 4×2 and 4×4 models, something which keeps both companies in the good graces of large fleet company work, health and safety policies.

At the time of the study, Mitsubishi’s 4×4 Triton offered the system only on higher variants but has since released the MY20 GLX ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) model. Since the research was completed, Holden’s top-spec Colorado LTZ and Z71 4×4 models have been upgraded to include AEB as standard.

Toyota’s Land Cruiser wagon offers the system on higher-spec’ models but its utility is not offered with AEB. The workhorse D-Max ute from Isuzu is also not offered with AEB in either 4×4 or 4×2 guises, with a similar story told by Nissan’s Navara, the Mazda BT-50 and Volkswagen’s Amarok.

Hyundai’s iLoad commercial van is another non-starter for AEB, along with the LDV T60.

Ford’s Transit range is yet to make the same impression on the van segment as its Ranger stablemate has with the ute market, but the Ford van now offers the accident-avoidance system as standard.

The Toyota Hiace, that segment’s long-time standard bearer, has been recently released in all-new form – the first all-new model in 15 years – and this is fitted with the automatic braking system as standard.

Toyota as market leader claims around 90 per cent of its current range – 97 per cent of its passenger vehicles and over 85 per cent of 4WD and light-commercial range – are equipped with AEB and other active safety features.

Toyota Vice President Sales and Marketing Sean Hanley said late last year the company would expand the availability of advanced safety technologies as new or updated models were introduced.

“Fortuner is just our latest vehicle to offer crash avoidance and lane-keeping technologies – features that are already standard in top-selling models as diverse as Hilux, Corolla hatch, Camry, Kluger and Hiace. It has achieved a 5-star safety rating,” he said.

Within each system there are variations in functionality depending on the manufacturer and even car model (in terms of warnings, braking function, time-to-collision etc.).

Most AEB systems are designed to support the driver only in emergency situations, relying on the driver to remain responsible for the vehicle at all times. But the level of assistance given to the driver to avoid an impact is considerable. US research suggests a 50 percent reduction in the crash severity and a 35 percent reduction in actual impacts.

Global crash expert NCAP calculated road users would benefit greatly. In the European Union alone, an estimated 1000 lives could be saved each year with a 38 percent drop in rear-end crashes.

Research by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found forward collision-warning systems (FCW) alone and FCW with AEB working together, were responsible for reducing rear-end crash rates by 23 percent and 39 percent respectively.

US police forces reported 700,000 rear-end crashes in 2013 and these statistics resulted in the claim that 300,000 injuries in such crashes could have been prevented if all vehicles were equipped with FCW with AEB that performs similarly as it did for study vehicles, the study concluded.

Findings from various Australian studies and insurance claims have also indicated that AEB can make a significant reduction in both fatal and injury crashes, with some insurance companies now offering discounted premiums for vehicles equipped with these systems.

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