Although driverless or autonomous vehicles (AVs) attract the most media attention, some of the new technologies involved in their development are already having a major impact on road safety. Increasingly, vehicles are equipped with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that insurance industry research shows are preventing or reducing some types of common crashes. Starting out as options on a few luxury models, crash avoidance systems have steadily spread to more of the fleet. The goal is to assist the driver with a warning or even automatic braking to help avoid or mitigate a crash. Systems include front crash prevention, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, adaptive headlights, park assist and back-over prevention. Research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows significant benefits from front crash prevention features, such as forward collision warning and automatic braking.
Front crash prevention systems use various types of sensors, such as cameras or radar, to detect when a vehicle is getting too close to the one in front of it. Most systems issue a warning and pre-charge the brakes to maximize their effect if the driver responds by braking. Many systems can brake the vehicle autonomously if the driver doesn’t respond. The aim of the technology is to either prevent the crash if possible, or at least reduce its severity. IIHS research finds that automatic braking systems are reducing property damage liability claims by around 14%. The studies show that forward collision warning (FCW) systems, without auto-brake, are also reducing crashes, but the effect typically is not as large, because they rely on drivers to respond appropriately to the warning and cannot directly avoid crashes.
The Institute is also seeing crash reductions with adaptive headlights, which are designed to pivot with steering wheel input to help drivers see better on dark, curved roads. When researchers looked at adaptive headlights offered by Mazda, Mercedes and Volvo, they found property damage liability claims fell as much as 10%, despite only a small percentage of multiple-vehicle, nighttime crashes occurring on curves, where adaptive headlights would have an effect. To help better understand how various crash avoidance systems are working, the insurance industry has embarked on a US$30m project to expand the IIHS’s Vehicle Research Center (VRC) facility near Charlottesville, Virginia, to enable researchers to undertake more rigorous scientific evaluations of these technologies. Work is nearly completed on a 91 x 213m (300 x 700ft) covered track where engineers will evaluate vehicle-based systems year-round using robotic targets and vehicle controllers. An existing outdoor track has already been expanded to conduct higher speed maneuvers than were possible before.
Adrian Lund, president of the IIHS, noted, “Fully driverless cars are a long way off, but the technologies that are the building blocks for the vehicles of the future are on the road right now. The insurance industry, through the research of the Institute, will help drive the spread of crash avoidance technologies.”
October 1, 2014
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