How Accident Avoidance Technology Is Impacting Collision Repair Shops
New technology designed to prevent accidents is already here,
Even though most consumers have never heard of the term “accident avoidance technology,” the media has brought it home through some popular commercials. There is one where an accident between a child and a vehicle is diverted as the vehicle’s rear camera is able to detect the child’s presence. Another shows a sleepy and distracted driver at the wheel, and the vehicle’s facial recognition software sends an alert to the driver.
Whether you have seen any of these commercials or not, most individuals have experienced distracted driving or had a near miss at some point. Many types of accident avoidance technology might seem futuristic but all of the technology mentioned in these commercials is already in use in vehicles all over the world – with more being introduced each model year.
Greg Horn, vice president, Industry Relations, Mitchell International, recently shared some information with AutoInc. about advancements that have been made in the collision repair industry that help reduce the frequency of vehicular accidents. He explained that research shows if a vehicle is equipped with a vehicle stability system, there is a 35 percent decrease in the amount of single-car accidents. But results are even greater for SUVs – vehicle accidents decrease by more than 67 percent. Statistics from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that if vehicle stability systems were widely used, they would save an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 lives in the United States every year.
Horn spoke highly of Volvo and Mercedes vehicles, which are at the forefront of automated technology (see related story on page 30). “Volvo has one of the best electronic stability control (ESC) systems out there,” he said. “And Mercedes-Benz has required vehicle stability systems as standard equipment on all of its vehicles since 1999.”
The NHTSA study previously cites a 15 percent reduction in all accident types in vehicles that have ESC as a standard component. He explained that ESC measures speed and tilting of the vehicle as it goes around a curve. “Yaw” is the measurement of the deviance of a vehicle from the curve. As the car strays from where it should be traveling around the curve, the ESC selectively decreases the acceleration of the vehicle, applies the brakes and stiffens the outboard shock absorbers, which helps move the vehicle back onto the desired path of travel.
“Volvo is at the forefront of autonomous braking systems,” said Horn. “Mercedes-Benz, Ford (in Europe) and General Motors all offer their customers car models with this autonomous form of braking.” He explained that GM is now offering a system that works to help drivers stop by sensing a problem in the front and back of the vehicle. This package, called Driver Assist, will launch on the 2013 Cadillac XTS.
“Driver Assist uses combined assistance from radar, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors,” Horn explained. “These tools are all fused into a central computer that warns a driver of lane departure and can provide autonomous braking.” The Driver Assist program also lets drivers know when a car has come into the lane ahead and can automatically decrease the speed of the car when the cruise control is set. There are lane departure warnings and side blind zone alerts to help drivers further.
The Lexus LS460 features facial recognition software with sensors in its dashboard. If the driver’s head begins to bob or the vehicle senses that the driver is distracted with the radio or something else, the steering wheel vibrates to alert the driver to the distraction. Information directly from Lexus explains that a camera monitors the driver’s face for its orientation. If the system detects a distracted driver, a warning chime and a flashing light are set off.
Lexus is also the world’s first car manufacturer to offer the Advanced Pre-Collision System (APCS). The APCS is a reactive system that can detect pedestrians in the path of the vehicle and prevent an accident by braking.
According to Lexus, APCS uses “two small cameras mounted at the front of the car that work in conjunction with millimeter-wave radar,” and is sensitive enough “to detect certain objects with low reflectivity or an object’s lateral position,” which may prevent deadly pedestrian accidents.
In Europe and Asia, Volvo is using technology on the outside of the vehicle to protect pedestrians who are struck by a vehicle by creating an airbag that is mounted between the hood and windshield. At the time of impact, the airbag cushions the pedestrian when he lands on the hood after being struck by a vehicle. The airbag cradles the pedestrian and absorbs a good bit of the impact. Horn explained that at the 2012 Geneva Auto Show, Volvo debuted the V40, which features this U-shaped pedestrian airbag and covers the lower part of the front windshield and the cowl if there is a human/car accident.
Another tool to assist drivers is a pilot system from BMW called Left Turn Assist. Statistics show that left-turn accidents are the leading cause of death for motorcyclists. This pilot system uses in-car GPS to determine that a driver is in the left turn lane. It scans the road ahead for cars or motorcycles, and if it senses a problem, gives a warning sound and displays relevant warning symbols in the instrument cluster. If the driver of the vehicle disregards the warning and continues to move forward, the Left Turn Assist system will activate an automatic braking input (in a low speed range up to 10 km/h, according to information from BMW), and will attempt to prevent a collision.
While many of these technologies are new and cutting edge, the event data recorder (EDR) technology actually was featured on a vehicle in the 1970s. Frequently referred to as black box technology, GM was the first manufacturer to feature it, on the 1974 Chevrolet Caprice Classic. This vehicle was one of the first to carry airbags, and the event data recorder provided insight into why the airbags deployed. The “black box,” which is similar to the technology used on airplanes, could tell repairers and automotive companies about the magnitude of the crash and its results.
As with most technology, one “downside” to the latest advances is the cost of replacing these types of technology following an accident. While these technologies are designed to reduce the frequency of accidents, they do not eliminate them, and the cost to replace the technology can be quite expensive, according to Horn.
Horn explained, “It is very important to properly diagnose the problems and the needed repairs in the repair estimate. Technicians must see the parts and area needing repair and know how to properly repair the vehicle.” These technological systems can present a challenge to the average technician, so proper training and the proper tools to repair an accident avoidance system are necessary.
Mitchell Repair Center’s TechAdvisor program provides integrated access to critical OEM repair data and procedures, so technicians can quickly locate the information they need to safely and properly restore today’s complex vehicles to pre-accident condition. As these changing technologies are more widely adopted on vehicles in the United States, TechAdvisor will be updated to include repair information for these systems as well.
Of course, despite the latest and greatest technological advances in vehicle safety, vehicles do not drive themselves, and require common sense and skilled drivers. These technologies are only designed to assist the driver, not take over for the driver.
Horn explained that accident avoidance technology can fail, and that there have been well-publicized incidents where fatal accidents have occurred. “Sensors can get dirty, radar sometimes fails, cameras can be foggy — any number of things can go wrong,” he said. “These systems are meant to reduce accidents, but they require driver interaction and they are not 100 percent foolproof.”
The next time you put your vehicle in reverse and use the backup camera, just imagine the accident avoidance technology your future vehicles might have.
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