The move to make driving safer has been in high gear for decades, but the focus has shifted in recent years from preventing crash injuries to preventing crashes. In-car alarms that alert drivers to the possibility of an imminent collision are the newest focus. The search is on for the most effective way to warn drivers. One study is investigating optimal timing for the alarm. Another is looking into driver response when the collision avoidance system (CAV) is less than optimal.
CAV technology relies on data from several sources, including vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-roadway sensors.
Using a simulator and their Forward Collision Warning System (FCWS), researchers Abe Genya and John Richardson at the Ergonomics and Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Loughborough University in England compared drivers’ braking strategies after early, medium and late FCWS alarms. A 2005 study, their most recent, focused on driver behavior at the relatively low speed of 30 mph. The results showed that early warning triggered a more timely response to an imminent collision than either middle or late-timed alarms. The researchers also found driver trust in late alarm timing was low compared with early or middle alarm timing.
Not all CAVS are created equal, and a second study looks at driver response to flawed systems. The Israeli team of Avner Ben-Yaacov, Masha Maltz and David Shinar from Ben Gurion University evaluated the effects on driving of what they refer to as in-vehicle collision avoidance warning systems (IVCAWS). Investigating drivers’ maintenance of headway, the distance to the car in front, and response to warning system errors, they found drivers tend to overestimate that distance and drive with short and potentially dangerous headways. The study showed that after a relatively short exposure to the IVCAWS, drivers were able to maintain longer and safer headways for at least six months. Drivers responded properly for the most part to the system alerts, slowing down when necessary, and ignored false alerts. The team sees IVCAWS as useful tools for educating drivers to estimate headway more accurately.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, which published the Israeli paper, is one of scores of research bodies around the world working to refine CAVs. The energy behind the research into avoiding crashes is de facto recognition that each advance in automotive technology, even features designed to increase safety, can add potentially dangerous distractions. Drivers must track objects, monitor constantly-changing systems, manage system information and make decisions in this dynamic and high mental-workload environment. The challenge is creating CAVs that minimize added distractions and trigger the safest response from the driver.
Sources: Ergonomics and Safety Research Institute; Massachusetts Institute of Technology