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Can your car really keep you safe? Let’s take a look…

7 minutes

With the safety features on our cars getting smarter, is our reliance on them getting heavier? Let’s see how new car tech could keep you safe behind the wheel…

  • Does car tech mean drivers are becoming complacent?
  • What are the costs and benefits of additional safety kit?
  • From cruise control to autonomous braking, what’s it all about?

From dash cams to sensors and everything in between

Car safety tech, what’s it all about? 

Due to recent changes in the Euro NCAP safety tests, the industry standard for new car crash testing has meant that vehicle manufacturers must do all they can to keep drivers and passengers safe and secure. Where airbags, crumple zones and pedestrian safety elements were once the norm, it's now become commonplace for even the most basic models to feature advanced safety tech in order to bag the coveted five-star rating. So, let’s start with the basics…


What can we do ourselves?

Dash cams, parking sensors, blind spot monitors, lane departure warning systems and even front collision detection alarms can be purchased and installed into your current car for a lot less hassle and money than you might think, so benefiting from safety tech doesn’t necessarily mean forking out for a new car. Remember, any changes you make to your car could impact your car insurance premium, so it’s worth check with your insurer before making any modifications.


Do seat belts keep you safe?

In 1984, the humble seatbelt reduced driver fatalities by 25% after a new law required passengers to wear them from 31 January 1983. But there’s always room for improvement, and seatbelts have had to get smart to make sure they’re as safe as possible.
The Volvo XC90, for example, can sense an upcoming crash and add pre-tensioning to the belts in advance. The seatbelt then holds passengers in place in preparation for the collision to reduce injuries. Volvo’s technology is targeted at achieving the company’s Vision 2020 goal, whereby nobody will be killed or seriously injured in a Volvo. Volvo is also the leader in Radar Cruise Control technology, which scans the road ahead to make sure that the car remains at a safe distance from surrounding traffic. 


What is car 2X technology?

Meaning communicating wirelessly with other vehicles, the new VW Golf comes with Car2X technology as standard, so it can communicate wirelessly with other Car2X enabled vehicles, using WLAN (wireless LAN) technology to share information and bring you immediate traffic updates. For example, if you’re stuck in heavy traffic, the system uses the information it receives to detect when the end of the jam is coming up and get the car’s Adaptive Cruise Control ready. The hazard warning system also advises you of impending road works, accidents and emergency vehicles. Clever, right?


What is Lane Keep Assist?

Research by Brake suggests that almost 20% of worldwide crashes could be sleep-related. Tired drivers can have lapses in concentration, which can lead to a vehicle wandering into other lanes. Lane Keep Assist, which is now found on many entry-level family cars, can detect when a vehicle strays into other lanes via its on-board cameras, and then audibly warn the driver with a chime or through a vibration in the steering wheel, helping drivers to stay focussed. More advanced machines will even gently apply steering without the need for driver input to keep the car on course.

What are parking sensors?

Successfully parking a modern vehicle in the cramped spaces of a supermarket can be a challenge, or a silly reason to claim on your car insurance. Most new cars come with these fitted as standard or can be chosen as an optional extra on a new car (they can also be retrofitted for a fee); they give the driver an audible warning when their vehicle is getting too close to its surroundings. Better still, reversing cameras – or a system such as Nissan’s Around View Monitor, which gives a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle on the infotainment screen – make all forms of parking much simpler. 

What is a smart windscreen?

It’s amazing to think that early vehicles used basic plate glass in their rudimentary windscreens. It took Henry Ford a good few years to realise that this was a bad idea – and when he did, in 1919 he introduced laminated safety glass into his vehicles. ‘The windscreen and even the rear-view mirror are becoming smarter in the next-generation vehicles,’ explains Tim van Goethem, Vice President of Group Infotainment Platform at Harman. ‘Vehicle information, navigational information and safety instructions can now be overlaid onto head-up displays to make sure the driver’s gaze isn’t taken off the road. But it won’t be long until the entire windscreen will be a piece of smart glass,’ he adds. Need proof? Corning, the company that makes the tough Gorilla Glass found on the front of an iPhone, is starting to make and sell screens to automotive manufacturers.  Corning Chief Technology Officer Jeff Evenson revealed at the 2017's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that a full-windscreen display could be available soon.

What is a dash cam?

Arguably the simplest piece of safety technology a vehicle owner can fit is the humble dash cam and, according to Heather Yates, Halfords’ in-car technology expert, the popularity of the tech continues to grow. A dash cam records the road ahead and if needed, can be used to prove your innocence if you’re involved in a collision. Dash cams don’t cost much and are relatively easy to set-up, however more complex hard-wired systems will usually require help from a professional installer. 

What is a reversing camera?

It's a video camera mounted on the rear of the car to aid the driver in reversing manoeuvres. It gives a clear view of blind spots, which should help to reduce car park collisions! Typically, this system will come as part of the more luxurious trim levels found in most new cars, but can easily be installed into most existing models with minimal fuss and mess. The camera kits cost anywhere between £60 and £200, with image quality and reliability generally determining price, while Bluetooth-enabled head units cost as little as £100.    

Why is tyre pressure important?

Properly inflated tyres are essential to safe and economical driving, but physically checking them before drives can become tiresome. Modern vehicles often feature a tyre pressure monitoring system as standard, so you’ll be alerted when your pressures need changing.

What is adaptive cruise control?

Cruise control includes advanced cameras, radars and sensors to not only keep a car at a predetermined speed, but also keep it in lane and at a safe distance from other vehicles. A study in 2017 found that, generally, the more cars with adaptive cruise control (ACC) on a motorway, the lower the risk of collision – but the amount of traffic had a significant effect. The introduction of a variable speed limit on the road, alongside the adoption of more vehicles with ACC, led to the biggest improvement in safety. ‘Without a doubt, adaptive cruise control makes life safer on the road, simply because it leaves a sufficient gap between the vehicle ahead if used properly,’ explains Tim Shallcross, Head of Technical Policy and Advice at IAM Roadsmart (@IAMRoadSmart). ‘However, the car-buying public needs educating about how to use these systems safely so it doesn't lead to greater distraction,’ he continues. ‘Just like the use of satellite navigation in the driving test, we could see some of these systems come into play at a learner level in the future.’ This thought is largely echoed throughout the industry. 

What is ADAS? 

ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) is not quite the same as autonomous driving, or self driving cars). With ADAS systems you are still ultimately in control as the driver of the vehicle, the systems are just there to help you to be the best and safest driver you can be. We’ve gone into a bit more detail about ADAS in another article if you fancy a read. 

So, can drivers rely on safety tech?

It’s not as simple as it seems; owners of vehicles with the latest driver systems, or those buying a car ready for the new UK number plates, could still experience system failure warnings if sensors or cameras become dirty or obstructed, or if weather conditions affect their ability to function, so it pays to be vigilant and keep on top of any required maintenance. 

Despite the advances in driving technology, we remain in a position where the driver is still pivotal in the piloting of a vehicle. Until SAE Level 5 autonomy – a car that can do everything a human driver can do – is reached, human beings will be required to take over driving duties at any given moment, and this could prove problematic.

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Center for Automotive Research in the USA has released a paper that states: ‘Some evidence suggests that, after using autonomous vehicle technology, drivers show poorer lane-keeping performances, shorter headways, or delayed reaction times’. The paper concluded that reliance on autonomous technology could lead to a reduction in skill when performing manoeuvres such as parking, maintaining longitudinal and lateral control, and adjusting driving style to suit certain weather conditions.

While all these car tech features can definitely improve safety, and in some cases can make for cheaper car insurance, we as drivers still need to make sure we take the time to learn about them, keep them in check and avoid becoming complacent behind the wheel.

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