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The Future of Car Safety

By: Bridget Clerkin March 22, 2016
Advances in technology could be the answer to safety in transportation.

Distracted driving is an epidemic responsible for claiming a growing number of lives each year. But some of those same technologies so frequently responsible for taking our eyes off the road are being reworked to help ensure we drive more safely.

In fact, the future of our driving safety rests largely in the hands of such tools.

A number of new applications are already on the way for our increasingly connected cars, including technologies that allow our vehicles to converse with each other while on the road, those that allow our cars, trucks, and busses to “speak” to surrounding infrastructure, and even those that could temporarily disable other devices that are leading to a growing number of accidents.

These new tools would work by stepping in to aid our everyday drives—whether physically, by making the car react to something that we either don’t see or respond to quickly enough; or verbally, through warnings or suggestions.

All told, more than 4.5 million accidents—or 81% of all annual vehicle crashes—could be potentially prevented by such intervention, according to estimates from the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT).

But before we can benefit from these technologies, we have to teach our cars—and our roads—to be a little bit smarter.

Vehicle-to-Vehicle Applications

We live in a world where nearly everything can be—and is—instantly shared. In such a social environment, our cars have been the equivalent of the timid wallflowers in the corner. But many new applications are intent on making our vehicles the life of the party.

Vehicle-to-vehicle technology will focus on how to make our cars more conversational. Once they start talking to each other, there are plenty of things they can share that could help keep us safer on the road, such as their position, speed, and location.

The information—which is taken anonymously—will give our vehicles a comprehensive vision of every moving thing on the road, and it’s a cornerstone of many safety applications that will allow cars, trucks, and buses to warn us of things we may not be aware of, such as a car in our blind spot or an oncoming traffic jam.

An additional calculation for risk factors will ensure that the suggestions are educated, and aid in new functions like forward collision warnings and advice on when a driver should not pass another vehicle. 

Some developers are taking the process a step further and giving the vehicles the chance to act on their digital intuitions—literally. Some cars are already fitted with applications that will allow the vehicle to park (and even parallel park) itself, but other forms of vehicle-to-vehicle technology being developed will allow our cars, trucks, and buses to assist us in other ways, such as “knowing” when to go at complicated intersections, and helping to prevent collisions within intersections or crashes with bicyclists or pedestrians.

Studies have shown that when people are talking while driving, the trip often becomes more dangerous—but when it’s our cars having the conversation, it just may help save thousands of lives.

Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Technology

Vehicles aren’t the only things that need to find their voice in the future of driving safety. Developers are also attempting to figure out how to make our infrastructure—everything from stop signs and traffic lights to school zone and construction signs—more talkative.

The benefit of chattier roads could potentially curb 26% of all vehicle crashes annually, according to the USDOT.

While many vehicle-to-vehicle applications focus on a present situation, a majority of vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies will allow our vehicles to warn us about potential issues in the future, which could lead to a more aware and safer roadway.

One area getting a lot of focus in vehicle-to-infrastructure technology is the possibility of our cars relaying to us the timing of traffic signals, to cut down on intersection crashes by offering red light warnings.

Other applications include: 

  • Curve speed recommendations, which could take into account a number of factors, including weather conditions and the angle of the curve in question.
  • Alerts for:
    • Busy railroads along the way.
    • Inclement weather.
  • Advanced notice on any area where drivers need to reduce their speed, such as school or work zones.

These types of alerts are intended to not only help civilian drivers stay safe, but to give a more accurate picture of the road ahead for those manning emergency vehicles, to help double the amount of possible lives saved.

Disabling Tools

While vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies are working to aid their human drivers by providing more information, some devices are hoping to help by withholding data from drivers.

Cell phones are a huge and increasing problem when it comes to driving. In 2015, the National Safety Council estimated that a quarter of all accidents that year involved cell phone use. Yet even though it’s widely known to be an issue—98% of participants in one 2013 study said they believed using phones while driving wasn’t safe—adults and teens alike can’t seem to help but instinctively reach for their ringing device in the car.

A group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey is hoping to put a very literal stop to that.

They’ve come up with a way to use radio frequencies to pick up on incoming calls to devices in the car. The technology will further determine which side of the car the phone is on, and whether the car is moving. If it turns out to be on the driver’s side while the vehicle is in motion, the application will either send a call straight to voicemail or delay the delivery of a text.

According to the students, the app should only jam a driver’s cell phone, so in an emergency situation, passengers could still make and receive calls.

Another similar feature is being developed in India by engineers utilizing the same technology that can electronically scan toll-paying devices. While the Stevens students’ application will block a driver’s phone from use only when he or she receives a call or text, this program would prevent the phone from receiving data at all, even further discouraging its use in the car.

These are just the latest ways people have come up with to modify the use of something that has at once become both indispensable and deadly in our daily lives, although it’s still unclear whether car manufacturers will actively adopt this type of feature.

Regardless of which specific applications do find their way into our future vehicles, it seems that making our cars smarter will ultimately make our roads safer.

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