By Allen Penticoff
As often happens in the automotive industry, features and options that first appear on luxury and high-end vehicles drift down through the lineup until nearly all cars have them. Case in point – electric windows. Try to find a manual window crank in a new car today.
From a long list of new safety technologies, automatic emergency braking has started drifting down into the cars and trucks bought by the middle class. Using radar sensors, lasers and cameras, cars can alert the driver to an impending collision (Forward Collision Warning) and if there is no response from the driver, begin to activate the brakes, pretension the seat belts for a collision and try to stop the vehicle in time to prevent or reduce the severity of a rear-end collision.
Automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems come in three forms: Higher Speed AEB, Low Speed AEB and Pedestrian Auto Emergency Braking. Each manufacturer has a different name for their systems but the features are essentially the same and use similar technology. While any given vehicle may have just one of these systems or a combination, it is rapidly moving in the direction of having a three-in-one AEB system.
Higher Speed AEB can detect your car closing the gap with a vehicle ahead of you up to 200-250 meters (two football fields or so) away and begin the alert and slowing process. This happens at highway speeds using long-range radar.
Low Speed AEB may use lasers to detect a vehicle ahead and more quickly apply the brakes in a stop and go traffic situation where the alert system would be too slow for the driver to react.
Pedestrian AEB uses cameras to detect the presence of persons or animals on or near the roadway. An alert and automatic braking may be featured. This is the newest technology and is less frequently found, but soon should be quite common.
Often cars that have AEB also have Adaptive Cruise Control since the sensors are common to both systems. With Adaptive Cruise Control. Not only will the speed be held on the highway, but the vehicle can maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of them – slow down to match them or see that the passing lane is clear to maintain the set speed to pass. If something suddenly appears to block the path of the vehicle the AEB system will slow and stop the car. It is a very nice feature. And this sort of technology is what is leading us towards self-driving cars.
The auto insurance industry likes AEB very much and should be rewarding new car owners with rate discounts. Although only about 10 percent of vehicles have AEB at present – that will change rapidly. Studies in Australia have shown that AEB has yielded 53 percent lower accident severity and in 35 percent of cases completely avoided a rear end collision – but these data are hard to collect – as an accident that doesn’t happen doesn’t get reported. Still it is expected that accident related deaths and severe injuries will be reduced by about 25 percent with widespread implementation of this technology.
Since there are many new safety technologies in new vehicles – if you are shopping for a new car or truck it would be worth your while to study the manufacturer’s brochures or online resources to see what is available and have it fully explained. The showroom may not be the best place to try to absorb all this information.
We love our great old classic cars, but there is no doubt that cars and trucks have become far safer as the marketplace has found that safety features are a strong selling point. It may be worth buying a new car just to catch up with these many great technologies as well as increase your fuel economy.