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A Crash Course: What You Need to Know About New Automated Safety Systems (cont.)

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Meanwhile, Volvo’s entire 2014 lineup contains the first standard radar and camera system that’s capable of detecting—and stopping for—pedestrians and bicycles that are on low-speed roads. The system engages when the vehicle reaches 3 mph, and Volvo says it works best when the vehicle moves at up to 30 mph.

QUICKER REACTION. BMW is researching technology that would make its vehicles more responsive to cyclists and pedestrians via a transponder system that would be able to brake the vehicle even if the driver's view of the cyclist or pedestrian is obstructed.

QUICKER REACTION. BMW is researching technology that would make its vehicles more responsive to cyclists and pedestrians via a transponder system that would be able to brake the vehicle even if the driver's view of the cyclist or pedestrian is obstructed.


ADAS features emerge so quickly that David Zuby, who conducts vehicle research for Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), says he believes that consumers still don’t understand fully what these systems do.

Stewart agrees. “The manufacturers and the dealers are doing a poor job of communicating what’s already on today’s cars,” he says. He gives frequent talks about ADAS features to community groups that are in his area, he says.

Michael Albano, who is a Chevrolet spokesperson, says General Motors dealerships inform consumers about the systems and how they operate when the vehicle is purchased. Instead of education at the manufacturer level, he says, dealers should provide a hands-on learning experience for consumers to understand the systems.

A significant problem when it comes to consumers understanding ADAS features is a distinct lack of standardization for these systems among automakers. The features even have different names from one automaker to the next, according to Jake Nelson of AAA.

Several of the experts with whom we spoke expect the industry to standardize ADAS features and capabilities over time. However, Jeremy Carlson, who is an automotive analyst at IHS, which is a market-research company, doubts that consumers ever will see ADAS features work in the exact same manner in different makes of vehicles, because each manufacturer has its own proprietary computer system that powers the ADAS features in its own respective manner.

It also can be difficult for drivers to become accustomed to the feel of certain ADAS features. As an example, Richard Wallace, who is an analyst with Center for Automotive Research, says active lane-keeping can feel like “a carnival ride” if drivers take their hands off the wheel, because the vehicle shifts left and right between lane lines. He estimates that this problem will be solved in 5 years as the computer processing power increases in vehicles and the technology evolves toward lane-centering (keeping the vehicle at a safe point between road lines) instead of the easier task of course correction.

SAFE PROGRESS. Despite the problems, early results indicate that ADAS features help to reduce the frequency and the severity of crashes. A 2012 study by IIHS concluded that “forward-collision avoidance systems, particularly those that can brake autonomously, along with adaptive headlights, which shift direction as the driver steers, show the biggest crash reductions.” Using information through August 2011 from Highway Loss Data Institute, the study showed that the number of property-damage liability claims from crashes were 14 percent lower for vehicles that were equipped with forward-collision warning and automatic braking systems than were similar models that didn’t have those features.

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IIHS also just completed the first major ranking of collision-avoidance systems across 74 midsize sedans and SUV makes and models. (Tests of additional models are continuing.) Each vehicle was tested for its capability to slow itself by at least 5 mph to avoid or at least minimize the damage from a pending accident. The tests were conducted at various speeds, with the rankings published for results at 12 mph and 25 mph—speeds that Zuby says are relevant to real-world driving and the manufacturers’ operational speed specifications for the systems. The vehicles that ranked the highest in terms of collision avoidance were those that had multiple radar systems or cameras as well as automatic braking systems.

However, Nelson points out that many of the tests that were performed don’t paint a realistic picture, because they were conducted in controlled conditions on closed tracks or off-road entirely via computer simulation. As a result, he says, we still know little about how these systems perform when multiple drivers are on the road or in adverse weather conditions. “We’re a year or two behind” in collecting such data, Nelson concedes. Although data continue to pour in, it isn’t enough to draw firm conclusions about how much money that each feature can save you or how many lives that it can save each year.

As of press time, AAA was expected to publish its own ranking of ADAS-equipped vehicles in spring 2014, but it didn’t make any of its information available to us.

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