Crash-free Car Plans Announced By Automakers
September 11, 2014
Crash-free or almost crash-free cars may become a reality sooner than we thought. In previous articles, we discussed the shift by automotive engineers from designing cars to protect the occupants in a crash to avoiding the crash altogether through the use of collision-avoidance technology. Recently, two automakers announced plans to build crash-resistant and almost driver-free cars within the next couple of years. It seems that, while the Google car has been getting all the press, engineers from the mainstream auto manufacturers have been developing crash-free technology of their own.
Toyota announced last week that they will include collision-avoidance technology, currently only available in its Lexus luxury line, in the entire US model lineup beginning in 2017. The Lexus line currently has an active “Pre-Collision System.” If the onboard radar and cameras detect an imminent frontal crash, the system will warn the driver, boost brake pressure, and tighten up the seat belts. If the driver fails to heed the warning, the system will apply the brakes to avoid or at least reduce the crash forces of an impact. This differs from “passive” collision-avoidance systems that only warn the driver but otherwise, take no action to avoid the crash.
General Motors has taken it a step further in an announcement that their Cadillac line will contain technology that allows driving without hands on the steering wheel or feet on the pedals. GM’s technology, known as “Super Cruise,” can control the vehicle’s speed, steering, and braking at speeds up to 70 mph. The technology is designed to work both on the open road and in stop-and-go traffic. GM also announced that they will be the first auto manufacturer to equip their vehicles with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology within two years.
It’s not just a desire to protect the automotive public that’s driving these innovations, there are ulterior motives as well. Some automotive industry analysts feel that GM’s announcement is an effort to restore public trust after the recall scandal that they experienced earlier this year. Another reason for going forward with this type of technology is that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), announced that, beginning in 2015, in order to get a “Top Safety Pick +” rating, vehicles will have to be equipped with auto-braking systems.
These technological innovations aren’t without their challenges. Last month, cyber-security experts raised the alarm over the ability of hackers to gain control of a vehicle’s computer system and possibly cause a crash. Earlier this week, David Friedman, acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that he sent a letter to the CEOs of every automaker asking that they come up with an automotive cyber-security plan by the end of the year.
Aside from the life-saving benefits of the crash-free systems, the technology will offer other benefits as well. Truly driverless cars will save time and money for consumers in several ways. Once all vehicles are equipped with V2V and collision avoidance technology, experts feel that, by maintaining a safe following distance and regulating speed, traffic will move much more smoothly and traffic jams could become a thing of the past. By not having to idle in stop-and-go traffic, miles per gallon should increase and braking systems will experience less wear. With crash-free technology, insurance rates should go down significantly, although it raises the question of who will be held to blame if a crash should occur, the driver or the manufacturer’s computer programmer.