KINSTON — Driving on congested roads is getting safer each year as manufacturers move toward standardizing features for vehicles that can detect danger and alert drivers to avoid potential collisions. But motorists should not become too complacent when on the road, according to experts.
Some newer vehicles, like the 2018 Toyota Camry XLE and Acura RLX, now come standard with devices that sound warnings of possible collisions, lane departures and unseen vehicles in blind spots; to autobraking, lane keeping assistance, automatic high beams and rear-view cameras.
Patrick Jacobs, Toyota sales manager at Massey Toyota, recently stood outside the showroom at the dealership on U.S. 70 looking at a 2018 Toyota Camry XLE and said the safety features are not new. They have been around since about 2000. But they are becoming more standardized, he said.
The advanced safety features in cars today are the technological edge leading the way to fully autonomous vehicles. Although unmanned cars are evolving, there are no permitted vehicles currently on the roads that are fully autonomous, according to Wired Magazine.
The Camry is loaded with the safety features.
“There are warning signs. There are alert systems to keep the customer aware,” Jacobs said. “It’s not something that’s going to take control and actually drive the car for you, even though those features are available on some models and trim levels of other vehicles.”
When the radars, cameras and lane-drifting detention first came out, not all customers cared for them, saying it seemed like the vehicle was taking over. But now more people are seeing the advantage of the safety features, Jacobs said.
“A couple of years ago customers were: ‘I don’t like it. I feel like my car is taking control where I should be in control,” Jacobs said. “You have more buyers now, especially your older drivers, who say, ‘Hey, I like this because I can’t see the blind spots. That’s always been a concern of mind. The vehicle is helping us out here. It is letting us know that these are problems we might be facing.”
In the future, Jacobs predicts cars will be able to do even more for drivers.
“I see cars that are going to take more control and make you more aware,” he said. “I see the technology allowing the driver to be more lax. Whether that’s good or not, I don’t know personally, but I see the vehicles doing more and you having to do less.”
Car manufacturers are now working to provide augmented reality windshields with night-vision that can warn a driver of a potential animal or pedestrian in the dark preparing to cross the road; and network-based traffic alerts that will connect cars to each other with WiFi. If there is an accident ahead, the cars involved will report it on the network, alerting those approaching so they can reroute.
Jacobs said he hopes as the safety features continue becoming standard equipment the price of those vehicles will drop. Five years ago a new Toyota Camry cost about $19,000. Today they are $34,000 to $40,000, he said.
A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the safety features that warn drivers if they are departing their driving lanes and blind spot detectors are lowering the number of accidents.
Single-vehicle accidents, sideswipes and head-on crashes by 11 percent, and injury rates in the same type of accidents by 21 percent. That means that if all passenger vehicles had been equipped with lane departure warning, nearly 85,000 police-reported crashes and more than 55,000 injuries would have been prevented in 2015, according to the study.
Jessica Cicchino, IISH vice president of research, said the study was the first evidence that lane departure warning is preventing accidents.
“Given the large number of fatal crashes that involve unintentional lane departures, technology aimed at preventing them has the potential to save a lot of lives,” Cicchino said in a press release.
However, the percentage of less accidents and injuries could be higher, Cicchino said.
Researchers don’t know what percent of the time lane departure warning was turned on in the earlier studies, but if drivers in the new study had kept the feature on all the time, the results would be in line with the benefits found in the earlier studies, Cicchino estimates.
Another factor is that lane departure warnings require an appropriate response from drivers. IIHS researchers looked at 631 lane-drift crashes and found that 34 percent of the drivers were physically incapacitated.
A 2015 study of lane departure warning on trucks in U.S. fleets found the technology cut the rate of relevant crashes nearly in half, and a study of Volvo cars in Sweden found a reduction of relevant injury crashes of 53 percent.
Cicchino used the same method to examine blind spot detection systems, which provide a visual alert when an adjacent vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot.
Blind spot detection lowers the rate of all lane-change crashes by 14 percent and the rate of lane-change crashes with injuries by 23 percent, according to the study.
“Blind spot detection systems work by providing additional information to the driver,” Cicchino said. “It’s still up to the driver to pay attention to that information and use it to make decisions. That said, if every passenger vehicle on the road were equipped with blind spot detection as effective as the systems we studied, about 50,000 police-reported crashes a year could be prevented.”
Backup cameras are also becoming more standard on vehicles. In 2014, they were available on more than half of the 50 top-selling vehicles in the U.S. In April 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated backup cameras, saying they could save 58 to 69 lives, mostly children and senior citizens, annually, and by May 2018 the cameras will be required on all new vehicles less than 10,000 pounds, according to State Farm Insurance.
Kerri Brooks of Grifton was at the Murphy Express at the corner of U.S. 70 and Hill Farms Road recently fueling her 2008 Toyota Prius that had a backup camera. Inside the car was a five-inch screen that captured the blind spots behind her when the vehicle was in reverse.
“I like it,” she said. “It works well but it has that beeping noise that is kind of annoying. It’s part of the safety, though.”
Linwood McLawhorn, defensive driving instructor at Lenoir Community College, said the reliance on technology when on the road will have to be checked with the basics techniques taught in driver’s education.
“You can’t remove technology,” McLawhorn said. “The country is moving toward technology. There’s nothing you can do about that.”
As the future moves toward moves advanced technologies, people start to depend on it, McLawhorn said.
“The only drawback with technology is when it fails,” he said. “Don’t forget the basics. If you forget the basics, it don’t matter what you have. You were taught in driver’s training years ago to turn your blinker on before you turn and you’re going to look in your mirror before you turn.”