Vehicle safety technologies have made huge strides in the last 20 years, with legislation also making the likes of anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESP) mandatory fit in new cars, in an attempt to reduce road casualty figures.
But there are still more gains to be made in improving driver safety, so fleet operators should look at ensuring your vehicles are fitted with as much safety equipment as possible.
We’ve rounded up some of the latest features that can improve driver safety – and that of all road users.
Autonomous emergency braking
Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) is a safety technology that will revolutionise vehicle safety in the coming years, as it is increasingly fitted to new vehicles.
Initially offered only as an optional extra, efforts by organisations including independent crash tester Euro NCAP mean AEB is increasingly been offered as standard. It can’t be retrofitted to older cars, but according to Thatcham Research, in 2016 21% of new cars came with AEB as standard, with 27% offering it as a buy on .
AEB is widely considered to be the most important safety innovation since the seatbelt, with forecasts by Thatcham Research estimating that if fitted on all new cars by 2020, over 750,000 damage claims and more than 19,000 deaths and serious injuries could be avoided between 2015 and 2025.
The technology combines data from radar, laser and optical sensors to identify other vehicles (and, in some cases, other road users and even animals). If the data is interpreted by the system to think that a collision is imminent, it will alert the driver and even automatically apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond quickly enough.
As around three-quarters of all crashes occur at speeds of less than 20mph, AEB can help drivers avoid such low-speed shunts (about a fifth of such potential collisions are avoided by AEB-fitted vehicles). Avoiding such crashes obviously has insurance-related benefits, such as lower premiums.
And even at higher speeds, AEB can mitigate the effects of a collision, warning the driver before impact and reducing the effects of a crash.
More advanced AEB systems can also detect vulnerable road users (such as pedestrians and cyclists), helping drivers avoid coming into contact with them – and allowing the fleet operator adhere to corporate manslaughter legislation.
While autonomous cars are still a few years off, much of the technology underpinning them is already available today.
Recent analysis from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has found more than a half of new cars sold every year feature safety systems that will be part of self-driving technologies on future cars.
So a new car that features adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, AEB and blind spot monitoring is already more than halfway to being self-driving.
For example, adaptive cruise control can be programmed to keep a car a set distance from the vehicle in front and travel at a consistent speed. It slows down when the vehicle in front slows down and speeds up again (to the set speed) when there’s space ahead to do so. Lane departure warnings can alert the driver if they’re drifting out of their lane, while additional lane-keeping systems help keep the car within the lines.
Add tech such as traffic jam assist, intelligent speed adaptation and the ability for cars to actually change lanes themselves (due on some models in 2018) and it’s easy to see how semi-autonomous cars with these safety features are available now for fleets to purchase or lease.
eCall is an initiative that is designed to enable emergency services to rapidly locate and assist motorists involved in a collision, and will be fitted to all new cars from April 2018.
The system uses the latest connected car technology, with a device installed in the vehicle automatically dialling local emergency services in the event of a vehicle being involved in a collision that has enough impact to deploy the airbags.
Using GPS technology, the vehicle’s exact coordinates are sent to police, ambulance and fire services, so they could respond an estimated 40% faster in urban areas and 50% quicker in rural areas.
A local operator can also speak to the car’s occupants using the microphone and loudspeaker for handsfree telephone calls, to find out the extent of injuries, which can be relayed to first responders.
Forward-facing dashboard cameras are being used increasingly to help road safety by recording road incidents and proving liability in the event of a crash.
Although a reactive rather than preventative technology, greater proliferation of dashboard cameras will increasingly act as a deterrent to criminals who instigate collisions in an attempt to defraud insurance companies: if their claims are undermined by video evidence, it won’t be worth their while causing a crash.
Telematics systems are making a major contribution to road safety by constantly recording how a vehicle is being driven and helping the driver to identify behaviours that could result in collisions.
In combination with additional driver training, these identified behaviours can be eradicated, making them safer on the road.