Hundreds of lives could be saved on Britain’s roads every year thanks to the development of road safety systems that intervene before an accident occurs.
Known as Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS), they will change the way the public view crash safety in the future.
Historically, vehicle manufacturers have focused on the need to protect the occupant in a crash, with technological developments such as seat belts and air bags.
Now, that focus on so-called secondary safety is shifting to systems that mitigate or prevent accidents from occurring in the first place – primary safety.
“This really is the future of vehicle safety,” explains Matthew Avery, crash and safety manager at accident research organisation Thatcham.
“We’re at the beginning of a collision avoidance revolution where these new technologies have a huge potential for injury and damage reduction.”
The latest figures available from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that 2,538 people were killed on Britain’s roads in 2008.
Estimates suggest a third were driving for work.
Many fleets have already embraced one of the first collision avoidance technologies, introduced more than 10 years ago. Electronic stability control, or ESC, which some fleets have now made mandatory, is helping to reduce the number of road traffic accidents.
DfT data shows an ESC-equipped vehicle is 25% less likely to be involved in a serious or fatal crash, resulting in 380 fewer fatalities and 7,800 fewer crashes annually.
But newer technologies being developed and introduced by manufacturers could help protect at-work drivers.
Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) systems, which automatically apply the brakes to avoid a front-end collision, are already being fitted by manufacturers such as Audi, Honda, Volvo, Mercedes and Toyota.
In a study of 1,000 insurance claims by Thatcham, 26% were for rear-end collisions, so an AEB system could have a significant effect in preventing or mitigating the most common types of crash.
First-generation AEB systems use a radar system to identify potential collision risks and apply the brakes at the point where a collision is deemed unavoidable to reduce the impact speed and associated injuries.
Many systems also pre-tension the seat belt and pre-charge the airbag systems to obtain optimum performance in the event of a collision.
Second-generation systems build on the first generation, higher speed systems, by adding low speed avoidance.
The Volvo City Safety system addresses the most common sort of impact – the front-into-rear low-speed shunt, typically occurring at speeds below 20mph.
“These accidents represent around 75% of all crashes and if such a system were fitted to all cars, this could significantly reduce whiplash injuries and repair costs,” explains Avery.
“A relatively low cost technology, it is set to be fitted to more and more vehicles, for example, Ford’s next generation Focus is to be fitted with such a system.”
Another new technology creating interest among fleets is the alco-lock, which monitors alcohol levels in the driver. If a limit is exceeded the security immobiliser will not disengage, preventing the car from starting.
An example of an Alco-Lock is Alcoguard from Volvo, which requires a breath sample to be taken prior to starting the vehicle. The key works with the immobiliser, only deactivating it once a breath sample is taken below a prescribed limit.
“Later versions of this technology are likely to be integrated into the infrastructure of the vehicle, so you will not have to blow into anything,” says Avery.
“Breath alcohol levels will be measured using sensors in the steering wheel hub or by measuring alcohol levels in the sweat from the skin.”
The technology has already won the support of the DfT, which is encouraging the use of alco-locks by fleet operators as a condition of employment for their drivers.
Avery says Thatcham will continue to monitor the development of these and other ADAS technologies as more manufacturers turn to their attention to primary safety systems.