There have been great strides in technology to reduce the risk and impact of car accidents. The National Safety Council estimated that in the United States during 2013, approximately 3.8 million crash injuries required medical attention, and 30,000 of them, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, were fatal. Beyond the emotional toll, unintentional injuries cost more than $790 billion annually.
Efforts are already having an effect. Deaths from car accidents fell by 3.1% last year from the prior year and that has been an ongoing down trend over the past 20 years. David Zuby from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that driver behavior is a key factor for fatality rates, but that also in general, “cars are getting safer.”
From new systems that will physically prevent vehicles from crashing to integrated platforms that deter distracted driving and apps that can help us after a crash, technology has a large role to play in keeping us safer before and after an accident, should one occur.
Before an Accident: Prevention
Car technology to improve reaction time
Driverless cars may not be too far off. But for now, human beings are still behind the wheel — and with 90% of accidents due to human error, car manufacturers are looking for ways to make their products as safe as possible. Joel Camarano, of the United Services Automobile Association recently said, “Advanced crash-avoidance features are becoming more common — almost expected.” Two of these technologies are proving to be particularly effective: automatic braking and adaptive headlights.
Automatic braking is included on new vehicles from Nissan, Toyota, and BMW. BMW’s “Active Assist” technology uses sensors to monitor the car’s surroundings and gently applies the brakes before a vehicle comes in contact with any stationary object. Moritz Werling, BMW Research Engineer said, “The ultimate goal is to prevent any collisions at all. How far we can get will depend on how many people actually use the technology. When we have 100% of the cars equipped with collision avoidance there is a good chance that we can almost prevent any kind of accident.”
Adaptive headlights improve safety during night driving: they follow the gaze of the driver and focus more light on the part of the road where the driver needs it most. Forthcoming features include automatic brightness adjustments based on ambient light, as well as forward-facing cameras that activate high or low beam lights depending on traffic conditions.
Phone technology to reduce distractions
Cell phone use is a key element of driving distraction: in 2014, the National Safety Council reported that it was involved in 26% of crashes. Companies that make phones and apps are stepping up to help.
“We looked at what people do with their phones in the car, and it was scary,” said Andrew Brenner, the lead project manager of Google’s Android Auto team, in speaking with The New York Times. “You want to say to them, ‘Yikes, no, don’t do that.’” Android Auto is a new dashboard system that puts smartphone capabilities on the car’s center screen, so navigation, communication, and music can be controlled with voice interaction or taps requiring brief glances, just as if you were looking at your speedometer. Light years ahead of a mere Bluetooth pairing, this new technology uses auto-optimized apps in sync with the cloud, while your phone screen remains dark and inactive to prevent distractions. In the coming weeks and months, dealerships around the country will begin selling cars capable of running Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay, a similar service that features voice recognition and communication through Siri.
Phone manufacturers and network operators are also trying to help. Motorola’s Assist automatically detects when you’re driving, and reads out your texts and tells you who’s calling so you don’t need to handle your phone. AT&T’s DriveMode responds to the sender of incoming texts and emails, saying the recipient is driving and will get back to them.
Of course, not all distractions can be mitigated, but these new technologies will go a long way in making the roads safer for all of us.
After an Accident: In Case of Emergency
Though cell phones can be a distraction while driving, after an accident, they just might save the day. After a collision, people are often too shaken up to make the best decisions for their health, safety, and their protection — legal or otherwise — but a few easy-to-use apps and built-in sensors have simplified the post-accident experience and made it easier to navigate.
Zendrive’s new Accident Detection service detects that there’s been a collision using only smartphone sensors. Apps building services on top of it can immediately trigger a call for emergency services, a call for roadside support, or a call to loved ones — helpful when the person in the accident is too stunned to think clearly.
Urgent.ly, an app known as the “Uber for Roadside Assistance,” is offering up one-click roadside assistance without a collision, and using Zendrive’s technology to automatically offer it after a collision is detected. One of the most convenient features of Urgent.ly is FamilyView, which allows you to have multiple users on one account, so you can help each other out quickly should an emergency situation arise.
Other great apps for getting roadside assistance straight from your device are Honk and AAA. Honk promises an average of 15–30 minute arrival windows, and will tow, change a tire, jump-start, help you deal with a lock-out, or service your fuel with a single tap on your device.
Documenting the incident
Once everyone is safe, the next important step is to document everything that happened. The Auto Accident App for Android helps you document accident pictures, audio witness statements, and even injury charts and car damage details. It creates a comprehensive accident report with pictures and info that can be shared with a single email to legal counsel, insurance, or anyone else. For iOS there is the AxiKit Accident Report Kit. It also captures signatures admitting fault, pinpoints location of the accident, and makes it easy to notify emergency services, alert your emergency contact, and exchange info with other drivers.
At The Wheel Of A Safer Future
With technology making accidents happen less often, and improving our responses to them, road safety is on the rise. It’s hard to know just what will come next, but every incremental step can make a huge difference in saving lives and improving safety behind the wheel.
In the meantime, stay safe on the roads, and don’t text and drive!