Cars' safety systems are getting a whole lot smarter
Automated safety systems are starting to have a real effect in protecting passengers and limiting accident damage, regulators and insurance industry experts say.
By Jerry Hirsch
September 21, 2013, 5:00 a.m.
The big, black Mercedes-Benz is going 70 on the 101 Freeway making minor steering adjustments to hold the lane. I have taken my hands off the steering wheel. A computer is driving.
After maybe 10 seconds, the steering wheel icon on the dash turns bright red, as if to say: Dude! Hands back at 10 and 2.
Forget about Google Inc.'s self-driving Toyota Prius, jammed with technology only a legion of Caltech professors can understand. Autonomous driving is already here on cars in dealer showrooms. It's packed into the safety features on this $100,000 flagship S550 Mercedes sedan; on the new Acura MDX sport utility that sells for half that price; and on less expensive vehicles such as the Ford Fusion, which can parallel park itself.
We're still a long way from sending unmanned cars to the grocery store, but automated safety systems are starting to have a real effect now in protecting passengers and limiting accident damage, according to regulators and insurance industry experts.
Such systems can alert drivers to an impending rear-end collision — and slam the brakes. They can stop a vehicle from hitting a post as it backs up. They can track the speed of the car in front, adjusting to maintain a safe distance. Some warn a driver when a car is about to wander out of its lane, and steer it back on course. Another system automatically adjusts headlamps to better illuminate turns.
"We think these systems can make a huge difference in saving lives," said David Strickland, chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Forward collision avoidance systems, which automatically hit the brakes and tighten seat belts, have reduced property damage claims on some Mercedes and Acura models 14%, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute, an Arlington, Va., organization that analyzes crash data for the insurance industry. More important, they lowered bodily injury claims — in which the driver of one car is accused of hurting someone in another — by 16% in the Mercedes and 15% in the Acura.
A system that comes on the Volvo XC60 sport utility vehicle has even better results, reducing the types of crashes that occur in city traffic and parking lots. It slashed injury claims more than 33%.
"That is a huge number," said Matt Moore, a vice president at the institute.
Front-to-rear crashes are the most frequent on the road, so the systems could make a huge dent in injury totals, Moore said. Eventually, that should make insurance rates lower for cars with these safety features...
http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/l ... 6836.story