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ESV Conference: Researchers report benefits for collision avoidance

ESV Conference: Researchers report benefits for collision avoidance
Tristan Honeywill

Day Two at the ESV car safety conference in Seoul and much of the discussion has focused on the many studies trying to measure the safety benefits of driver assist systems, particular autonomous emergency braking (AEB) .

Dr Helmut Schittehelm, a safety engineer at Mercedes-Benz, one of the pioneers for this technology, shared some insights into the reductions in accidents recorded by the company since introducing its “Distronic Plus” system. Fitted on the S-Class limousine from 2005, the technology is an intelligent cruise control system that uses radar to keep a safe distance and brake the car in an emergency.

Schittenhelm had a neat method for measuring the technology’s effect: Mercedes counted the number of replacement airbags, bumpers and other crash-related parts. This gave them a good way of monitoring the types of crashes their cars had been involved in.

One stand-out figure was that the cars fitted with Mercedes’ Distronic Plus required 26% fewer replacement airbags than those without the technology. “More than 40% of our customers fitted the driver assistance package, said Schittenhelm. “For them, light damage was reduced by 5% and severe damage by 22%.”

Autonomous emergency braking could reduce all fatalities by 20% and serious injuries by 30%

Other papers tried to estimate the number of pedestrian lives that could be saved with similar technologies, but were perhaps less convincing. Schittenhelm estimates that the company’s PRE-SAFE Brake technology will completely prevent around 10% of pedestrian collisions involving his cars and mitigate around 40%. That seemed to be the ball-park figure for most studies.

Robert Anderson of Australia’s Centre for Automotive Research argued quite convincingly that while AEB won’t prevent all accidents, the way it reduces impact speeds could be beneficial in more than people realise. Taking an admittedly small sample of 104 crashes to study, Anderson estimated that AEB could reduce all fatalities by 20% and serious injuries by 30%.

ESV audienceThere was consensus that lane departure crashes were more complicated than the typical front-to-rear accident, requiring a more sophisticated response from drivers and technologies. This could be part of the reason why Lane Departure Warning systems are so far failing to reduce accidents, commented Matt Moore of the US’ Highway Data Loss Institute, which has been studying insurance claims to see which driver assist systems actually work in the real world.

Richard Schram of Euro NCAP presented details of how the safety organisation would assess AEB and was challenged by one member of the audience: “It’s been a decade since Mercedes introduced this technology and has been getting great results. Why has Euro NCAP waited so long?”

Now proven on a handful of premium vehicles and in dozens of studies, there was a clear sense among safety researchers and engineers that the technology’s time has come. The focus in the next few years will be on getting AEB fitted in high volumes in more affordable vehicles.

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