TMCnet Feature
August 26, 2020

How Cars have become Safer in the 21st Century

British roads have gotten continuously safer over the past few decades. While there have been a few stalling points and setbacks over this period, the direction of travel is clear. There are a whole range of factors driving this trend. Some of them are cultural. For example, drink driving is no longer accepted, and the wearing of seat belts is second-nature.

But some changes are technological: modern cars do a better job of protecting their occupants than do the cars of bygone decades. In many cases, these advances can pay for themselves in terms of reduced repair bills and avoided injuries, which makes it worth investing in the credit needed to pay for them.

Crumple zones, airbags, anti-lock brakes and rigorous testing have played their role in the late 20th century. But exactly which advances are most important in the 21st?

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)

When you need to perform an emergency stop, there are two delays that might be crucial. There’s your reaction time (of about a quarter-second), and then there’s the mechanical time it takes to slow the car down. AEB monitors the progress of the car in front and applies the brakes automatically, thereby eliminating the human factor.

Adaptive cruise control (ACC)

Cruise control keeps your car at a fixed speed. Adaptive cruise control adjusts this speed based on the speed of the car in front. Not only does this reduce the likelihood of an accident, but it may also ease congestion by eliminating the need for excessive braking.

Blind spot detection

Before you change lanes on a motorway, you’ll need to turn around to check the blind spot that isn’t covered by your mirrors. Certain modern cars now come with specialised sensors that do this job just as capably, without the driver having to take their eye off the road. Indicate, and the sensor will sound a warning.

Reverse park assist

Reverse parking is one of those skills than only a minority of motorists really master. Some, in fact, will go out of their way to avoid reverse-parking after they have passed their test. Rear parking sensors and viewscreens make this job easier – but reverse park assist goes a step further by actually taking care of the steering automatically. All the driver needs to do is apply the accelerator.

Autonomous driving

The gold standard when it comes to safety is the car that drives itself. Human error accounts for the overwhelming majority of collisions. By making the transition to entirely driverless cars, this safety problem can be eliminated. There have been significant moves in this direction in the form of automatic braking, warnings prior to collisions, and pedestrian detection. The ultimate expression of this trend, however, is the driverless car – which will almost inevitably arrive at some point this century.

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