Expert Blog

Autonomous technology is already making roads safer

20180309 Autonomous technology is already making roads safer [1]

Car makers and tech companies are hard at work developing the self-driving cars of the future. Waymo has clocked up 5 million autonomous miles on America’s roads. Uber has now been trialling self-driving taxis on the streets of Pittsburgh for 18 months. Big manufacturers such as Ford and Toyota are investing billions in developing their own autonomous vehicles.

Once these vehicles have been perfected and the self-driving future arrives, our roads will be safer and our journeys will be quicker – as we’ve explained in a previous post. But, even though it’ll be years before we’re all being ferried around by robot chauffeurs, autonomous technology is already helping to improve road safety.

Advanced driver-assistance systems are becoming the norm

If you’ve acquired a new car recently, you’ll probably have discovered that it comes fitted with a whole range of features that your old one didn’t. That might include a collision warning system, which beeps to alert you if a vehicle or other object is approaching too quickly. It might also include automatic emergency braking, which stops the car automatically to avoid a crash, and adaptive cruise control, which adjusts your speed to keep you a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. 

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders recently published figures on how many cars came with these sorts of new semi-autonomous safety features in 2016. As the graph below shows, collision warning systems are the most common. They came as standard on 40% of new cars, and were available as an optional extra on another 27%.

Fewer accidents, fewer deaths

Of course, it’s hard to isolate the effect that these new innovations have had on accidents, but the evidence is encouraging. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of accidents where ‘driver error or reaction’ was recorded as a contributory factor fell by 15%. And there were similar reductions were observed for accidents caused by ‘injudicious action’, ‘impairment or distraction’ and ‘behaviour or inexperience’.

Overall, the number of people killed or injured on Britain’s roads appears to be falling too. The latest provisional figures from the Department for Transport show that 1,709 people were killed in the 12 months to September 2017 – down 5% compared to the previous 12 months. The number of people injured also fell by 5% year-on-year.

That means that 2017 is on track to be the safest year for British roads since at least 1978, with fewer people killed or injured than in any other year on record. And that’s despite there being more vehicles on the road – and more miles being driven – than ever before.

More improvements on the way in 2018

And there’s plenty more to come. Manufacturers are developing new semi-autonomous safety features all the time.

Lane control and steering assistance systems can guide your car back into the middle of the lane if you start to drift out, or steer you away from another vehicle if it starts to drift towards you. BMW and Audi have both created autopilots that can take over when you’re stuck in a traffic jam and keep you a safe distance from the vehicles around you. Mercedes and Tesla now offer cars that can change lanes automatically.

All of these new features will help to prevent accidents and keep people safe – even before the cars start doing the driving for themselves.

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