Auto accidents continue to be an unfortunate reality—a byproduct of the convenience and personal freedom of owning and driving cars. We have protections in place to help people who’ve been involved in auto accidents, including comprehensive insurance packages and legal ramifications for certain types of accidents, but it would be better if the rate of collision was lower overall.
Thankfully, vehicles have been gradually getting safer over the years, with better structural components and new technologies that reduce the impact of collisions and protect the people inside. But how do these technologies work?
For starters, cars are being designed in a way that minimizes the force from an impact. Energy-absorbing bumpers, for example, are on the front and rear of most modern vehicles. They’re intentionally designed to crumple under pressure if and when they’re involved in an accident, which evenly distributes the energy from the impact, so there’s less force to be experienced by the people inside the vehicle.
We’ve also come a long way in terms of interior safety. Seatbelts continue to be one of the best ways to improve your safety if you’re involved in an accident, but small tweaks in the material, mechanisms, and placement of seatbelts have incrementally improved their design. Airbags, too, have made massive strides, saving more lives than ever with smart designs that ensure the airbag is only deployed when appropriate.
Adaptive headlights are a smaller, less noticeable feature, but they can seriously improve your visibility, especially in problematic conditions like rain or fog. These headlights automatically detect visibility levels in your surroundings, turning on and adjusting brightness based on your current needs. Some models of headlights are even able to turn with your steering wheel, automatically directing light in your field of vision, where you need it most.
Automatic Emergency Braking
Automatic emergency braking is a feature in some semi-autonomous vehicles that, as the name suggests, deploys braking power when it’s needed most. Many of these systems rely on forward collision detection technology, which utilizes several different sensors to determine the distance of forward objects. If it detects you’re getting too close to a nearby object, or if you’re closing in too quickly, it will immediately deploy braking to assist in preventing an imminent accident.
In addition to power steering capabilities (which have improved vehicular performance significantly), automatic steering has started to be introduced. This doesn’t mean your car will be able to steer and drive by itself, but it does mean your car might take over for you in a life-threatening situation. For example, if sensors on the vehicle detect an imminent collision with a pedestrian, the car’s automatic braking and automatic steering might work in conjunction to slow the vehicle down and turn to get out of the path of the pedestrian.
Cross-Traffic Alerts and Rear-Facing Cameras
It’s hard to pay attention to everything happening behind you as you back up, even with constant attention to your mirrors (and checking your blind spots). That’s why there are multiple new technologies designed to assist drivers as they reverse their vehicles. For example, there’s the rising popularity of rear-facing cameras, which give drivers a clear view of their immediate rear, preventing collisions when parking a car. Some vehicles also come with cross-traffic alerts, which automatically detect passing objects in the rear, so you can react in time to prevent an accident when backing up.
Lane Departure Alerts and Controls
Some cars are equipped with sensors that detect lanes; they can “see” when a car is securely in a lane. And if that car begins to drift outside the lane, it can provide an alert, or engage a combination of automatic brakes and steering to gently guide the car back into the lane. This can prevent accidents that occur after such mindless drifting.
Distracted driving was responsible for 3,450 car accident deaths in 2016, and continues to be a problem—especially as the sophistication and accessibility of mobile devices continues to accelerate. Thankfully, more cars are coming equipped with voice-based controls, or integrations that allow you to control your devices with just a voice. That way, more drivers can keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the steering wheel, ultimately resulting in more attentive drivers everywhere—and far fewer crashes due to distractions.
As we get closer to developing fully autonomous vehicles, we’ll likely see even more high-tech and automated features of cars, designed to improve the safety of the people driving and riding in them. We may never be able to reduce the car accident rate to zero, but we can dramatically reduce it, and greatly improve the chances of health and survival for the people involved.