With more vehicle driver-assist technologies and safety systems accessible than ever before, which are worthwhile having?
Crashworthiness Standards and Crash Statistics
The two major American agencies that administer safety ratings tests for cars are the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). These agencies are responsible for enforcing federal motor vehicle safety laws, regulating theft resistance, and monitoring fuel economy and emissions. Every car that is evaluated receives an overall scoring out of five stars from the NHTSA, or a grading ranging from good to poor from the IIHS. Both methods are based on specific criteria, including the crashworthiness of specific sections of the car and the effectiveness of its crash prevention systems. On rare occasions, awards are also given to certain participants based on outstanding results.
The USA experienced over 36,100 fatalities as a result of vehicle traffic accidents in 2019 alone. Though that figure is lower than in previous years, it remains a concern when considering the nation-wide stay-at-home measures that were implemented due to the covid-19 pandemic in 2020. The NHTSA, using the vehicle-miles-traveled metric, calculated that there have been significantly more traffic-related fatalities, on average, per 100 million VMT. The high numbers are, in fact, partly attributed to the covid-19 response as with fewer people on the roads, many have justified driving excessively over the speed limits and without using their seatbelts. Many of the drivers were also found to have been driving under the influence, possibly as a result of many trying to cope with the impacts of the pandemic.
Mandatory Car Safety Systems in the USA
Alongside the essentials such as airbags, seatbelts, and head restraints, the NHTSA has also made more active safety systems mandatory for automakers. In 2018, a standard-fit backup camera became law as it was proven to reduce rearward accidents involving pedestrians, in particular. More recently, both authorities collaborated with various automakers to standardize automatic emergency braking by 2022 for the same reason. This will apply mostly to casual passenger vehicles, though, and won’t necessarily be mandatory, sparing supercars, in which the system may prove a hindrance.
New Driver-Assist Technologies in Your Car
Most modern cars are brimming with driver-assist technology, either as standard or as optional add-ons. Here are some of the more common advanced driver-assistance systems currently available in modern cars:
- Automatic emergency braking: AEB systems are designed to detect impending collisions with other vehicles and work to avoid or mitigate accidents by alerting the driver to take corrective action and by initiating braking assist accordingly. Generally, if the driver fails to respond, the system automatically applies the brakes to prevent or reduce the severity of the collision. Both front or rear collision warning systems are available and the NHTSA highly recommends these for all cars; all future cars will likely have this included already.
- Pedestrian detection: Automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection usually go hand-in-hand. Both utilize cameras to identify pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles in close proximity to the vehicle and inform the driver accordingly. Some setups also coincide with dynamic brake support software to assist the driver in preventing any impending collision.
- Lane keeping assist: Lane departure warning visually and audibly alerts the driver when the car is veering out of a lane and the turn signal hasn’t been activated so that the driver can manually straighten the car. Lane keep assist does the same but corrects the car automatically if there is no reaction from the driver. It’s an active driving assistant and, in some cases, it can be set to alert the person driving before automatically correcting the car.
- Blind-spot assist: While driving at speed, changing lanes can be a dangerous undertaking, especially in a cruiser that has significant blind spots. Fortunately, a system like this can improve rearview safety notably, as it uses sensors located on the side mirrors to alert the driver when a vehicle is in their blind spots on either side of the car.