Most Effective Car Safety Tech

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There's no doubt that automobiles changed the world when they started showing up about 125 years ago. While the horseless carriage put us on wheels and brought us together, it wasn't long before cars collided. The main reason for car crashes was easily deduced to revolve around human error. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has estimated that 31,785 people died in traffic accidents in 2022, a two percent decrease from 2021's 31,850 fatalities.

If the majority of car crashes are the result of human error, how do we dramatically reduce the number of accidents? The answer has come in the form of ever-better car safety technology. Today's automated car safety tech is quickly evolving towards an amazing world of autonomous travel where vehicles can literally drive themselves. How did we get here? Let's take a look.

History of Car Safety Tech

According to the University of California Berkley's Traffic Safety Center, automobile seat belts are "the single most effective motor vehicle occupant safety device yet developed for older children and adults." The first automobile seat belt was designed by Edward J. Claghorn in 1885 but the idea didn't get much traction until 1954 when the Sports Car Club of America required racers to wear lap belts. In 1955, California was the first state to require new cars to be equipped with lap belts. In 1959, Congress passed a law requiring all cars to comply with certain safety standards and by 1965, all states required seat belts.
According to the NHTSA, seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45 percent and cut the risk of serious injury by 50 percent. Since seatbelts reduce injury during car crashes, another idea to further restrain people during an accident came in the form of airbags. A series of sensors deploy vehicle occupant restraint airbags in milliseconds when they sense a collision.
After surviving a car accident with his family, industrial engineer John W. Hetric designed and patented the first automobile air bags in 1953. The first mass produced car to include safety airbags was the 1973 Chevy Impala, soon followed by the Oldsmobile Toronado. The first car to have both a driver and passenger airbag as standard was the 1987 Porsche 944 Turbo.
The NHTSA says that the combined use of seat belts and airbags have reduced the risk of death from front end collisions by 61 percent. Vehicle safety technology has come a long way since airbags became mandatory in all automobiles in 1999, but with 94 percent of serious crashes linked to human error, new tech is available today to further reduce death and injury.

Saving Us from Ourselves

Today's automobiles are equipped with an ever-expanding list of safety technology that has been created to react faster than a human being can, to warn us when danger is imminent. In some cases, this tech even steps in to help us avoid collisions. Many of these systems utilize video cameras and various sensors such as radar, sonar, and "Light Detection and Ranging" LiDAR which uses pulsed lasers, to improve the accuracy of self-driving cars.
The most used forms of autonomous vehicle safety tech used today include automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control.

Most Effective Car Safety Tech

As the name implies, Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) can identify when a collision is imminent from both forward motion or when backing up, and the system applies the brakes to avoid impact. AEB uses radar, video cameras, and LiDAR to detect and avoid life threatening collisions. This computerized system first appeared in luxury cars in the early 2000s but is now mandatory in all 2022 and newer cars sold in America.
When AEB predicts a collision, it uses the brakes to slow down or stop the vehicle. It functions better at slower speeds because at high speeds it may not stop the car completely. Many AEB systems include pedestrian and cyclist detection as well as reverse automatic braking. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that the use of AEB has reduced 27 percent of impacts with pedestrians and 50 percent of frontal impacts.
Unlike AEB, Forward Collision Warning (FCW) will not apply the brakes for you but it will alert you to possible collisions through the use of video cameras, radar, and LiDAR to detect objects in your path. Some systems are delicate enough to detect pedestrians, cyclists, and animals. FCW warnings come in the form of visual cues, vibration, or sound warnings that alert drivers to take action to avoid collisions by braking and steering out of the way. FCW is often paired with AEB which steps in to apply the brakes if the driver does not.
When used without AEB, Forward Collision Warning has been shown to reduce collisions by 27 percent according to the IIHS. However, FCW and AEB is only as effective as the ability of your car to brake. These forms of safety tech don't take the place of the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) on your car that uses sensors to release locked wheels due to rain, snow, ice, mud, sand, or gravel. ABS pulses the brakes in a matter of milliseconds allowing you to regain traction.
The bigger a vehicle is, the more blind spot areas keep us from seeing other vehicles on the road, or pedestrians in parking lots. The fact that consumers are buying more pickup trucks and SUVs has led to an increase in pedestrian injuries and deaths simply because drivers didn't see them. According to the IIHS, pedestrian deaths increased by 59 percent in 2020 and 54,700 were injured linked to blind spots. Hoping to turn the tide in these injuries and deaths, Blind Spot warning (BSW) utilizes sensors to scan the outside of the vehicle, detecting cars, pedestrians or other objects that might not be visible in your mirrors.
Designed to help you back out of parking spaces where you might not be able to see other vehicles or pedestrians, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert uses sensors, radar, and ultrasonic waves (which are also used in BSW systems) to monitor both sides of the vehicle. When you shift into reverse, both the backup video camera and the Rear Cross-Traffic Alert system is activated, sending a warning sound and visual alert. But these systems are not great with angled parking. Always use your mirrors and turn to look behind the vehicle when backing up.
Simply put, this system is designed to let you know when your vehicle is wandering out of its lane while you are driving. Lane Departure Warning (LDW) uses real time video cameras, infrared sensors, and lasers to track your car's progress in its lane. When you start to move out of the lane and are not activating your turn signal, the system will warn you with a flashing indicator and warning chime. LDW systems are reported to reduce 11 percent of all car crashes and reduce injuries by 21 percent. While Lane Departure Warning systems do not take over control of the vehicle, they are often paired with other technology such as Lane Keep Assist.
Using the same lane tracking technology as LDW, Lane Keep Assist (LKA) allows the vehicle to correct course or even brake if necessary. If your car is moving out of its lane, Lane Departure Warning alerts you with a sound, warning light, and a vibration of the steer wheel. If you don't take action to correct your course, Lane Keep Assist will gently steer you back to the center of your lane. Pulling the steering wheel slightly will disengage LKA. Both systems use the painted lane markers on the road as visual trackers, so these systems don't function if there are no lane markers or if they are covered with snow or ice.
We all remember early forms of cruise control that allowed you to set a speed and then take your foot off the accelerator and just cruise for long highway trips. But Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) really steps up the technology and is thought of as the "gateway to autonomous travel and self-driving cars." ACC lets you set the speed you are traveling on the highway and uses sensory data collected in real time by radar, video cameras, and LiDAR, to track your speed, the distance of vehicles in front of and behind you, keeps that safe distance constant, and even applies the accelerator or brakes when needed.
When activated, ACC takes control of both the brakes and accelerator on the highway, but just like old fashioned cruise control, it is deactivated when the driver touches the brakes. If your car approaches another vehicle going in the same direction, ACC backs off the throttle and applies the brakes to maintain a predetermined distance. That distance between vehicles can be changed by the driver. Some versions of ACC can even bring the car to a complete stop if necessary.
Drive Me Home!
When you put all the driver assist safety features that we've talked about in this article together, you come close to a self-driving car. Many drivers of today's cars tell us that when Adaptive Cruise Control is engaged on a car with Lane Departure Assist, the vehicle practically drives itself on the highway, following the lane as if the car were riding on an invisible track. The big plus of all these safety features is that today's cars are safer, reducing accidents, injuries, and death. According to an article in Forbes, vehicles with advanced driver assist features show a 27 percent reduction in claims of bodily injury.

As we move towards autonomous travel, benefits include the ability to maximize traffic flow to get us where we're going efficiently and safely. However, in a world where cars can drive themselves, it's important to remember that no matter how advanced our driving systems become, we should stay alert while driving and be prepared to take control at all times should the need arise.