Gone are the days when in-vehicle road safety was limited to the basic seat belt and airbag. Automobile manufacturers and researchers are now increasingly focusing on developing sophisticated technology that can make venturing out on roads substantially safer. With increasing concern about road safety and the surging levels of motorisation, making the very vehicles we drive safer has never been more important. From monitoring the way cars are being driven and avoiding collisions to warning drivers about speed and levels of alertness, here are a few of the technologies that are helping us steer towards a safer future.
1. External Airbags
Airbags are considered to be central to minimising the impact of crashes on the occupants of a vehicle. However, automobile makers are now looking at ways to use the same idea to help protect pedestrians and animals who may collide with the vehicle, by fitting airbags externally.
For instance, the Land Rover Discovery now comes with a sensor tube in the bumper which can detect if a pedestrian has been hit and deploy an airbag on the windshield to cushion them and soften the impact.
2. Lane Departure Warning
Sticking to one’s lane is widely considered to be good road behavior. To discourage lane jumping, lane departure systems are designed to warn drivers when they are drifting into another lane without giving an indication. The system monitors the markings on the road to make this detection.
More advanced versions of this technology actually have the ability to go beyond issuing a mere warning and can intervene with corrective steering and braking.
3. Emergency Brake Assist
The timely application of brakes can often help mitigate a potential crisis on the road. However, the window for this is often just a few seconds. To assist in such situations, the emergency brake feature identifies when the brakes are being applied in panic and initiates a maximum brake faster than a human would be able to. It does this by assessing the force applied by a driver on the brake. According to the European Commission, the widespread use of this technology can reduce the normal stopping distance by 45%.
The Skoda Octavia and Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire offer this feature in India.
4. Frontal Collision Warning Systems
Designed to quickly detect impending frontal collisions, this system can be incredibly helpful in reducing the impact, if not, completely avoiding it. The technology relies on using radar to scan for the presence of other vehicles, pedestrians, etc. and monitor the distance between these and the vehicle and the speeds they are moving at. Depending on the type of system in place, if a collision is anticipated, the warning mechanism may inform the driver or automatically take over and brake the vehicle.
This is already being widely used by companies like Volvo, Hyundai, Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen in some of their models.
5. Fatigue Detection
While it is natural to feel drowsy on long road trips, drifting off for even a few seconds can be extremely risky. The good news is that several automakers have been developing and have started to use technology that can detect erratic driving patterns that are characteristic of fatigue such as sudden deceleration, moving across lanes, etc. and issue acoustic warnings.
Both Volvo and Volkswagen have started including variants of this system in some of their models. In India, the Mercedes-Benz CLA integrates this in its safety and assistance system.
6. Intelligent Speed Assistance
This is a system that ensures that vehicles do not cross the legal speed limits. By constantly monitoring the location of the vehicle through GPS, the system is able to calculate speeds based on the distance that is travelled and link it with a database which in turn links it with the speed limit for the road and area being travelled. If it analyses that a person is about to cross the prescribed limit, it issues an audio and visual warning to the driver.
The system can also be fitted with a speed limiter which is a mechanism that automatically cuts off the fuel supply, slowing the car down.
Ford includes a version of this technology in their Figo, Figo Aspire and Endeavour models in India, allowing users to programme speed limits.
7. Electronic Stability Control
By using a number of intelligent sensors, the Electronic Stability Control system constantly monitors driving patterns, ready to step in if the driver loses control of the car. This can happen due to a number of reasons such as skidding and over steering.
When a driver does lose control, the system steps in, stabilising and braking the vehicle, and steering it back on track.
In India, the Mercedes E-class series, Skoda Octavia and Land Rover offer versions of this system.
8. Blind-Spot Monitoring
This technology is particularly useful for larger vehicles like trucks and buses. Due to the large body size of such vehicles, it is often difficult to see what is coming from behind, as the only view visible to drivers is the body of the vehicle itself. Blind-spot monitors with the help of ultrasonic sensors that are fitted in the rear end of the vehicle have the ability to provide drivers with real-time information about whether there is something behind and when not to make a lane change.
9. Night Vision
Night vision systems deploy infrared cameras to project images of what is down the road. These are able to show things beyond regular sight, even with headlights on. This can also be helpful on foggy days.
The Mercedes-Benz Maybach offers this feature in India.
Using a combination of GPS and mobile phones, these systems allow users to connect their cellular devices with the vehicle, to monitor its location and to send out a distress signal in the case of emergencies.
Automobile companies like Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Lexus, and Hyundai have begun pre-installing and offering this service in a few of their models. In India, Ford’s Figo, Aspire, EcoSport and Endeavor offer emergency response services based on this technology.