Automakers are deploying new technology on all sides of vehicles and in every direction to prevent crashes or lessen their severity.
The crash avoidance features highlighted in this Status Report — forward collision avoidance, adaptive headlights and lane departure warning — are among the most common of these high-tech detection, warning and intervention devices on the market so far. Other features that the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) is gathering data on include blind spot detection, park assist and backup cameras. All these systems are beginning to make their way into mainstream vehicles, beyond the luxury models where they started out. For example, one of the top-selling vehicles, the Toyota Camry, comes with optional blind spot detection for 2012. The current Ford Taurus has optional forward collision warning and blind spot detection. Chevrolet, Dodge and Chrysler also are among the brands offering advanced technology.
But the list of high-tech features on the market or soon to be available is much longer. Other examples include cross traffic alert, which warns a driver if traffic is about to enter the vehicle's path from the side; curve speed warning, which uses GPS and speed information to determine if the vehicle is about to take a curve too fast; and fatigue warning, which tracks steering and other driver behaviors to determine if the driver is inattentive or in danger of falling asleep. Night vision assist uses infrared imaging to produce an enhanced view of the road ahead, projecting objects on a display before they are visible through the windshield.
Side impact detection, which is not yet on the market, is meant to detect an imminent side collision. The advance warning allows for the deployment of larger airbags, which take longer to inflate but can better protect occupants. Similarly, rear collision detection gives the vehicle a chance to adjust seats and head restraints and take other measures to prepare for a crash.
Some relatively common features are being further enhanced. For example, a few forward collision warning systems can recognize a pedestrian and predict whether the person will cross the vehicle's path. These pedestrian detection systems could be expanded in the future to recognize animals or bicyclists.
Many park assist systems provide guidance to help the driver fit into a spot, but some vehicles are actually self-parking and can maneuver into a spot automatically, though the driver still controls the throttle.
Lane departure prevention goes a step further than lane departure warning by gently guiding the vehicle back into its lane position if it begins to stray.
Once these other features have been around long enough in enough vehicles, HLDI may be able to examine their effect on claims, too. However, it's becoming more difficult to tease out the effects of individual features because they are increasingly bundled together. This makes it particularly important to develop tests that can evaluate the performance of each feature. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently launched such work at its Vehicle Research Center. Using stationary and moving targets, as well as a pedestrian rig that "walks" across a vehicle's path, researchers have begun to evaluate how some crash avoidance features perform. In the future, such experiments will provide valuable information for consumers. They also could help automakers as they decide which of these many technologies to pursue further.