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Why you need to ask for Autonomous Emergency Braking

What is Autonomous Emergency Braking
Tristan Honeywill

It’s a myth that all cars these days are all as safe as each other. A few are going beyond the standard seatbelts and airbags and using new technologies to prevent accidents occurring at all. Safety researchers and insurance firms already recognise how significant the benefits are in terms of tragedies averted and claims reduced. The only issue can be finding out which cars offer these technologies – and how to order them.


Eyes on the road

Driver distraction is the major cause of most accidents. It isn’t just about mobile phone use. At a roundabout, have you ever glanced sideways to see if you’re safe to follow the car in front… only to notice too late the car in front has braked unexpectedly?

Technologies that scan the road ahead for such hazards promise to make rush-hour safer and will also help to reduce the cost of insurance premiums. Using cameras, lidar or radar to monitor traffic, some safety systems are able to warn the driver and, if necessary, hit the brakes to help prevent a crash or reduce its severity. They’re a warning shout from an alert passenger.


Lives and money saved

European safety researchers calculate that if every car had an autonomous emergency braking system, around 8,000 lives a year could be saved in Europe. That should be incentive enough for carmakers to at least offer them as an option, but factor in the number of life-changing injuries, whiplash claims and accident-related traffic jams that could be prevented and it’s clear that this should be standard equipment.

The good news is that some car makers already offer the technologies on their current models as options. And, recognising the benefits, UK insurers have started to reduce premiums for cars fitted with Autonomous Emergency Braking.

The bad news is that it’s not always easy to order. A survey by Euro NCAP earlier this year indicated that only around one in five car models offer the technology. To make it harder still, companies all use different brand names and bury them at the back of the brochure or in some dark, unexplored corner of their website’s car configurator.


How they work

There are a few different types of system, but they all do basically the same thing. They use forward-looking radar, lidar and video systems to provide a complete, accurate, real-time image of the road ahead. Different systems work at different speeds and so protect you against different accident scenarios.

Low-speed lidar and camera-based systems generally scan about 6-8m ahead, preventing the common rear-end crunches that occur at junctions and roundabouts. Ford’s Active City Stop system is a good example of this: Ford has If you can get the technology on a Fiesta, is it unreasonable to expect all carmakers to offer it?

The higher-speed systems use radar to look further ahead – up to about 200m – and help to prevent the serious accidents you see on motorways and dual carriageways. Basically the same principle, but usually providing more warnings before they hit the brakes.


What to ask for

Euro NCAP has a guide to the types of system and the brand names used. And in 2014 the organisation will start to assess the technology as part of its safety ratings, instead of just relying on crash test results. As I add safety reviews, I’ll identify the cars that offer these technologies and the option packs they’re part of.

If you’re looking to buy a new car, you should ask the dealer what kind of autonomous emergency braking technology is available. Let me know how you get on!

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