Can Smarter Cars Prevent Vehicle Crashes?

February 21, 2012

Cars that “talk” to each other and can intervene to help prevent vehicle crashes may still be a ways off for most consumers, but the kind of advanced safety systems that can create “smarter” cars are currently under development by universities, the government and automakers.

How’s this for a frightening statistic? Each year, more than 10 million motor vehicle crashes occur on this nation’s roadways, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). So-called smarter cars may one day make most such vehicle crashes a thing of the past. How so?

In its Annual Auto Issue, Consumer Reports covers the experience of two of the publication’s staffers driving cars from eight automakers and equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, as well as those able to communicate with roadside infrastructure such as traffic lights, work and school zones, technology known as V2X.

Department of Transportation vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) program

Department of Transportation vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) program

The staffers’ test drives occurred at one of the drivers clinics conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in Alameda, California. The magazine reports that another staffer got to see firsthand Ford’s Intelligent Intersection in Dearborn, Michigan and how vehicles can communicate with other vehicles as well as traffic signals. See our coverage last July on the DOT’s Connected Vehicle Drive Clinics.

In a press release, the magazine said it was “impressed by this technology” and reiterated that it has been a staunch advocate for stronger driver safety features for the past 80 years.

Potential Safety Benefits

Anything that will make family vehicles safer is a good thing, right? While that sounds good in the abstract, how such advanced safety technology really works, and how much it costs, and where and when it will be available are other considerations.

For now, Consumer Reports outlines the list of potential safety benefits to drivers and their vehicles’ occupants are good ones, and growing as research and development continues.

  • Intersection assist – You’ve got a green light and are proceeding through it when you’re T-boned by a vehicle running a red light in the intersection. With V2X safety technology in your vehicle, you’d receive an advance alert in the form of a red flashing warning light on the dash and the sound of an alarm, giving you enough time to brake to potentially avoid the collision. There are 634,000 side crashes at intersections annually, according to statistics posted in the magazine.
  • Forward-collision warning – Here the system detects if you are traveling too fast and are in danger of colliding with a slower moving vehicle ahead, emitting an alarm that alerts you to take action. A warning will also sound if there’s a vehicle that’s stopped two to three vehicles ahead, but that you may not be able to see because of another vehicle blocking it, again, giving you time to react appropriately.
  • Blind spot/lane-change warning – You’re on a multi-lane road and there’s a car that’s in your blind spot. The safety system in your car illuminates a warning light and, if you activate your turn signal, it sounds a loud beep to let you know it’s unsafe to change lanes. Each year, some 431,000 crashes are caused by cars changing lanes or drifting into lanes.
  • Left-turn assist – You’re in an intersection, about to make a turn. Do you have enough time to make it safely? With advanced safety technology systems now being developed, you’ll receive an alert when there’s not sufficient time to do so. This prevents you initiating or making a turn even when you cannot see a car approaching.
  • Do-not-pass warning – This one’s particularly good for narrow, two-lane roadways and alerts you if there’s not sufficient time for you to pass the vehicle ahead of you when there’s a vehicle coming toward you from the opposite direction.
  • Advance warning of a vehicle braking ahead – The driver two or three cars ahead in the same lane unexpectedly hits the brakes and you’re not able to see this action. The system emits an alert that can help you prevent a rear-end collision. According to Consumer Reports, there are approximately 1.6 million rear-end crashes in the U.S. every year.
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