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Each year, tens of thousands of people in the US lose their lives in traffic collisions. This recurring human tragedy has hung over the developed world ever since the modern auto industry started. However, the toll across the world has been decreasing on a gradual slope for some time now, and these days your average car is safer than ever. From innovations in active crash avoidance to the development of safer shell materials, big players in the auto industry have made some major leaps forward in keeping their customers safe. Here, we’ll look at some of the biggest changes that have made modern cars as safe as they are.
Cars Are Getting Smarter
Crash performance is still as important as ever, but a lot of modern safety research is centered on the relatively young field active collision avoidance. This niche is dependent on a range of new and innovative technologies, such as automatic braking and driving. While fully autonomous cars are still some way away, some of this tech is already in use and keeping our roads safe. Volvo, for example, was one of the first companies to sell cars with autonomous emergency braking, which will apply the brakes in dangerous situations if the driver fails to. According to one study, Volvo XC60s equipped with this technology were involved in 20% fewer collisions than comparable cars without autonomous braking.
Self-steering is the bold new frontier of collision avoidance technology. Over the past three years, we’ve seen self-steering technology in the Infiniti Q50, the Lincoln MKZ, and the Mercedes S-Class. Each of these cars have features which are capable of making steering corrections when the vehicle’s traveling at highway speeds, ensuring that the car can maintain its position in a lane. For now, these systems require some input from a human driver. In the S-Class, for example, if the car determines that the driver hasn’t adjusted the steering wheel in 16 seconds, it shuts down its lane-keeping assistance. However, as autonomous driving tech becomes more and more developed, the room for human error will gradually be phased out.
Cars Are Learning to Talk
As private manufacturers make cars smarter and smarter, the US government is also taking steps to hone tech that will make roads safer all over the nation. Vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication is a major talking point at the Department of Transportation and NHTSA, and as you read this there are plans in the works to test the limits of this tech, and eventually have it incorporated in production cars. Just like the government, car manufacturers have a considerable interest in making their vehicles safer, and are working closely with federal bodies to develop more connected cars. Once perfected, these systems will be able to eliminate many of the human factors that any car accident lawyer will tell you are behind most crashes. When cars are automatically able to communicate their speed, braking, and position to one another, they’ll be able to predict potentially hazardous situations more or less instantly, and warn the driver through visual or auditory cues. When these cars are also able to steer and adjust their speed on their own, they can even take action to avoid an unfolding accident that the driver may be totally oblivious to.
Although the development of digital safety features has come a long way in recent years, some of the biggest developments in terms of safety have been found in one of the most simple components in a car: steel. Over the past few decades, the steels available to the auto industry have been getting progressively stronger. Modern high-strength steel is stamped at extremely high temperatures, and then rapidly cooled, allowing it to be morphed into a greater variety of shapes and greater availability in yield strength. This allows manufacturers to determine the way a car is deformed during a collision, in order to keep their customers as safe as possible. These days, any higher-up at a major car brand will tell you that car materials are all about controlling the energy of a crash, and minimizing the weight of the vehicle itself. A large part of why cars from the 50s and 60s were so dangerous is that they were extremely heavy and stiff. If you crashed one into a wall, the whole thing would ricochet off, and all the force from the deceleration would go straight through the driver’s body. With the strategic use of steel, and other materials such as aluminum and carbon fiber, modern auto makers are able to build cars that will crumple with the force of a crash, and protect the driver from any significant harm.