In the last 20 years we’ve seen hundreds of hours of music become available on devices the size of a cigarette packet, and computers capable of trillions of calculations per second.
The vehicle industry isn’t being left behind – it too has seen myriad innovations for drivers, from satellite navigation to run-flat tyres. And it’s no surprise that with safety being such a concern, a plethora of active and passive systems have sprung up.
But only a handful of such systems are legally required on cars, most obviously anti-lock brakes (ABS).
Most of the rest are optional, and with so many around it’s easy to be confused by the barrage of acronyms.
Safety organisations are attempting to cut through the confusion with several different campaigns.
The Fleet Safety Forum has introduced an information leaflet explaining the various systems, while a national campaign has been launched by a number of organisations, extolling the benefits of electronic stability control (ESC)
Other than ABS, ESC is probably the most ubiquitous of automotive acronyms. The system detects when cars are about to skid and automatically controls engine power and the brakes to counteract the problem.
Research by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found ESC reduces the risk of fatal single-vehicle crashes by 32%.
Department for Transport (DfT) figures show that ESC-equipped cars are 25% less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.
Less than half of vehicles sold in the UK have ESC as standard. But our survey found 71% of fleet managers were in favour of ESC being fitted as standard to all new cars, and the European Commission (EC) agrees. It forecasts that all new cars will be fitted with ESC by 2012, but there are numerous technical specification hurdles to clear first.
Safety organisations are also keen to see ESC introduced to as many vehicles as possible, and a campaign has been started to that end.
“Choose ESC” is a campaign backed by the insurance research centre Thatcham, the DfT, Euro NCAP, the European Commission and safety organisation RoadSafe.
Research by AA Business Services shows that Britain lags behind Europe when it comes to ESC take up. Some 84% of cars in Europe are equipped with the technology but only 74% of vehicles feature it in the UK.
It is estimated that Electronic Stability Control could prevent 7,800 crashes annually in the UK, but it’s not foremost in the minds of British drivers.
Paul Watters, head of AA Public Affairs, says: “UK drivers are reluctant to relinquish control of their vehicles to forces beyond their control, even with safety.
“They want the ability to take full control if they choose to – even if ESC means the car knows best.
Being lectured on how their cars work also gets the thumbs down, although getting British drivers to read new car manuals has always been a problem. Many British drivers now associate classrooms with an alternative punishment to penalty points.
“In-car technology is moving at a fast pace and electronic aids now available can make driving safer or easier.
“The AA urges fleet managers and car buyers to do their homework and check out what gizmos are fitted to new cars or are available as options. Some may well be of use and could prevent an accident.”
RoadSafe director Adrian Walsh says: “It is vitally important that employers focus on vehicle and driving standards and do not simply assume that being in possession of a driving licence is a guarantee of ability.
Vehicles fitted with ESC will make a real difference. Choosing ESC is a simple yet vital step for businesses in developing an effective work related road safety strategy.”
Former transport minister Dr Stephen Ladyman also suppors the Choose ESC campaign.
“I urge anyone thinking of buying a new car to consider the safety benefits that ESC could bring,” he says.
“Ask the vendor if it comes as standard and, if not, investigate whether it could be fitted as an option. It’s not expensive and has the potential to make our roads significantly safer.”
What should fleet operators do
The Fleet Safety Forum advises fleets to carefully research the safety features on vehicles before buying or leasing them.
Analysis of crash data and risk assessments for each driver and regular journeys should identify what type of vehicle is best for improving your fleet’s safety.
Active safety features and devices designed to aid drivers should be chosen carefully.
Some are new in the market, which makes it difficult to assess their effectiveness.
There are fears some can increase risks. ESC is the only active feature endorsed by EuroNCAP.
Make sure whatever systems you choose do not lead the driver to distraction, complacency or confusion.
Cost is always likely to be a large consideration, so prioritise if your budget is limited.
Remember, costs to employers from at-work road accidents total around £2.7 billion each year in the UK, so extra money spent on safety can be more than recouped in reduced costs later on.
DTA (deciphering the acronyms
Also known as Intelligent Cruise Control, this system uses sensors to detect cars in front and determine how far away they are and how fast they are going. It then keeps the vehicle a safe distance away and automatically slows when the car in front does.
Research from the 1990s has shown that drivers can become dangerously complacent if their vehicles have ACC. At present the systems are mainly offered on premium cars.
DRL are headlights that are always on, theoretically making vehicles easier to spot.
According to the EC, mandatory DRL use could reduce EU road deaths by 3-5% each year.
DRL are mandatory in some northern EU countries, but not the UK. Suggestions have been made that they should be, although some motorcyclists – many of whom run DRL – don’t like the idea for fear that they won’t stand out as much.
All Volvos have DRL as standard.
Several manufacturers now include blind spot aids as an option. They help drivers see or detect objects around the car that can’t be seen in mirrors – usually overtaking vehicles.
Such devices generally use mirrors or cameras and warn the driver through an audio or visual display. Devices can also be retro-fitted to any vehicle.
These limit vehicles to a set speed and are required by law in trucks and buses.
However, they can be retro-fitted to any vehicle. Some manufacturers offer speed limiter functions which can be set and turned on and off by the driver.
These on-board weighing systems alert the driver if the vehicle is overloaded. Overloading vehicles is illegal and can affect the vehicles’ handling. Some van manufacturers offer the devices as options, and they can also be retro-fitted.
Also known as alcolocks, these breathalyser devices are fitted to the vehicle’s dashboard to analyse the driver’s breath before they start the car. If they’re over the legal drink-drive limit, the device immobilises the vehicle until a negative sample is given.
The device is available as an option on certain Volvos and vans and can also be retro-fitted.
These control the angle of the beam to match the direction of the steering wheel, which improves vision around bends and are becoming increasingly common on cars
Located either at the back or all around a vehicle, parking sensors detect any obstacle nearby and warn the driver, either with an audio signal or a visual display, or both.
Sensors are fitted in the cockpit that monitor the driver’s eye movement. They can detect the onset of tiredness and sound an alarm. However, there is concern that such systems can encourage drivers to continue driving when tired and rely on the devices to keep them awake.
Case study: Balfour Beatty Utilities
Balfour Beatty runs 502 cars, 265 small vans and 689 large vans.
The van drivers often operate and manoeuvre in residential areas where there are pedestrians, so last year fleet and maintenance manager Richard Barratt decided to fit all the vans with reversing sensors and alarms, and drivers were trained in their use and in safe reversing.
A driver tracking system is also fitted to vans, and those vehicles that carry waste have the system linked to an on-board weighing device.
“If overloading occurs, a flashing light warns the driver and sends a text message to me,” Mr Barratt says.
“I then discuss the dangers of overloading with the driver on their return to the depot.
“Overloading incidents have reduced significantly since the system was introduced.”