Antilock brake systems (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) are life-saving technologies that are now mandatory on passenger vehicles sold in North America.
The next "big thing" on the safety front may not save as many lives, but will help prevent many lesser incidents that are common causes of personal injury and vehicle damage. Marketed under a variety of names, these new electronic systems warn drivers of people or vehicles behind, or approaching from either side when reversing.
A number of approaches and methods are being employed, ranging from sensors mounted in the rear bumper to cameras that display the scene behind to radar-based systems that send signals to the sides at the rear, searching for objects whether stationary or moving. All of these approaches warn the driver of an impending collision.
From a $20,000 Kia to practically every luxury car on the market, these system have become common and rear-view cameras may become mandatory. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expected to make rear-view cameras mandatory on all passenger vehicles sold in the United States by 2014. Canadian regulations tend to fall in step with those south of the border, so we can expect the same.
NHTSA says more than 100 deaths and more than 8,000 injuries could be avoided each year by eliminating the blind spot behind vehicles, nearly half of them children under five years of age. Numbers are not available for Canada, but the usual 10 per cent rule probably applies. There was just such an unfortunate incident 100 kilometres from my home recently when a mother killed her young daughter when backing out of her driveway.
When teaching new drivers, instructors point out the correct way to approach a vehicle before driving off is to walk behind it to look for objects or people before getting in. We also know that you should back into parking spaces so you will have a clear field of view when leaving.
But in many cases, theory and practice part company. We also teach that proper emergency braking involves steadily increasing brake pressure to the point of lockup and then regulating the pressure to maximum retardation without locking the wheels, allowing the driver to retain steering control. However, faced with an emergency situation, 99.99 per cent of drivers simply stomp on the brake pedal and hope.
ABS, by preventing lockup, does provide the opportunity for an alert driver to steer around a situation. In real life, few drivers reverse into a parking space, especially in a busy and crowded parking lot. In some areas. if you drive past a likely spot in preparation for reversing into it, another vehicle would zoom into the spot while you watched.
In this age of large pickups and SUVs that block visibility to the sides when parking, it is tricky trying to get out of a parking space. If you are reversing, the rear end of your vehicle is sticking out into traffic before you can even see properly out the side windows.
Anyone who has experienced these new systems instantly recognizes their worth. The simplest approach is to use sensors in the bumpers, front or rear, that warn of proximity to an object, often accompanied by an audible warning that becomes increasingly strident as you get closer. Rear-view cameras provide a view of what lies behind, many of them with lines on the screen showing the projected path of the vehicle.
The more complex and effective systems use radar or similar devices to detect vehicles or people approaching from the side. It is certainly important to see what is behind the bumper but camera-based systems tend to make for lazy driving habits. People will use the screen to reverse without checking in their mirrors or looking to the rear and side of the vehicle. The radar systems overcome these lazy human habits to the degree in that they act as eyes on objects that are about to become a problem.
Some of the systems currently on the market include:
Chrysler – Rear Cross Path Detection: Combines blind-spot monitoring system with two radar sensors mounted on the corners of the rear bumper to look to the sides for oncoming vehicles.
Ford – BLIS (Blind Spot Information System with Cross-Traffic Alert): Two multiple-beam radar modules in the rear quarter panels. As an object or vehicle enters the defined blind spot, it provides a warning that a vehicle is approaching.
General Motors – Rear Cross Traffic Alert: Scanning areas adjacent to the car on each side extends driver vision such as when backing out of a parking spot with vehicles on both sides. AFRB (Automatic Front and Rear Braking) will apply emergency braking automatically in certain driveway, parking lot and heavy traffic conditions if it detects a vehicle in front of or behind the car.
Infiniti – Backup Collision Intervention: A combination of radar and sonar sensors, visual and audible warnings.
Lexus – Rear Cross Traffic Alert: Tied in with the Blind Spot Monitor system, warns the driver if a vehicle is approaching when backing out from a parking space.
Mazda – i-Activesense: Incorporated with a number of related features it detects cars in the blind spot on either side or approaching from behind and alerts the driver to potential risks.
Mercedes – Blind Spot Assist: Detects vehicles in the critical sector by means of two radar sensors located at the sides at the rear of the vehicle.
Toyota – Rear Cross Traffic Alert: Paired with a Blind Spot Monitoring System, detects obstacles in the path when reversing.