Car safety technology - how it could save your life

Active safety systems are now commonplace on new cars. We explain why they’re so important, what the next developments will be and how they're pushing up car repair prices

Words By Claire Evans

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What future safety technology is on the way?

The majority of the latest cars do a great job of protecting their occupants in a crash in terms of their structure and ability to absorb impacts – known as passive safety – as well as the fitment of seatbelts and airbags, so there’s less room for improvement when it comes to crash test standards. This has led safety experts to concentrate on advanced driver assistance systems that can prevent crashes from happening in the first place.

β€œIt’s no longer about protecting occupants in an accident, but assessing how capable a car is of braking and steering automatically to avoid other vehicles, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians,” says Thatcham chief executive Peter Shaw. He adds that Euro NCAP’s Roadmap 2025 plan β€œlays the foundation for safety assessment of future autonomous vehicles”.

This means that we can expect to see a range of improvements and enhancements to automatic steering and braking systems – technologies known as advanced driver assist systems.

Other manufacturers are likely to follow Volvo’s lead and introduce systems that aim to prevent cars from being involved in head-on collisions or running off the edge of the road by fitting an automatic steering function.

The next step on from this will be automatic emergency steering, which doesn’t gently steer a car back on course but takes over from the driver and reacts strongly to avoid an impending impact. Just as AEB stops the car if a crash is imminent, automatic emergency steering will steer the car out of trouble and then slow it down.

To encourage all car makers to follow the lead of those at the forefront of safety technology development, from 2020, Euro NCAP’s overall ratings will include a score for each new model’s lane-keeping assist system. From 2022, Euro NCAP will begin testing cars’ automatic emergency steering functions, with a view to this becoming mandatory for a five-star rating soon afterwards.

Another focus will be on the ability of a car to detect and avoid collisions with a range of other road users. Presently, only the most sophisticated systems can identify pedestrians and cyclists, but a wider uptake of that technology will be encouraged in a bid to reduce the 23% of deaths and serious injuries involving these vulnerable road users.

AEB will also be used to prevent accidents in other situations, such as when cars are pulling out of road junctions or reversing out of parking spaces.

In order to test these ever-evolving systems, Euro NCAP is continually adding new equipment to its crash testing armoury. Thatcham recently developed the Guided Soft Target, a fake car that’s solid enough to fool a driver assistance system into believing it’s another vehicle but won’t harm it if the system fails to react quickly enough to avoid an impact.

There are also dummy pedestrians that can be timed to walk or run out in front of a moving car to test its pedestrian-detecting AEB. And alongside the current bicycle-riding dummy, there are plans to introduce a motorbike-riding one to test systems that aim to prevent collisions with motorcyclists.

What about monitoring drivers?

Manufacturers are also introducing and improving their driver monitoring systems. These also aim to address the high percentage of accidents that are caused by driver error by spotting when a driver is inattentive, distracted or too tired to drive. And in our ageing society, there’s growing concern over people suffering medical emergencies while driving.

So, although this means that some time soon your car will notice if you’re not paying enough attention while driving and reprimand you, this technology will be a significant building block towards creating the safe self-driving cars of the future.

Next: Why is safety tech sending repair prices soaring? >