Trickle down safety

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New technologies such as radar, cameras, lasers and GPS may enable us to offer more safety and convenience features in the future. [The] key is identifying the kinds of warnings that drivers will find both more effective and easier to understand.” -Jeff Rupp, manager-active safety research and advanced engineering at Ford Motor Co.‘s Research and Innovation Center


Finally!!! All the dynamic safety systems I‘ve seen for heavy trucks in recent months - radar-based blind spot detection, forward collision warning, and the crème de la crème, active braking technology - is now trickling down to smaller vehicles. Ford Motor Co. is the first manufacturer to step into the ring, with plans to start offering collision warning with brake support (CWBS) on certain Ford and Lincoln vehicles next year, but I am sure the other automakers - domestic and otherwise - will soon follow.


This is a really big deal in my estimation, for these are the kinds of technologies that can really make a dent not only in truck-car crash numbers but also in terms of reducing overall highway fatalities.


[Here‘s a video from Ford outlining how its new bevy of safety technologies work. As the old phrase says, “seeing is believing,” and that‘s never been more true with these new safety systems.]




Ford‘s CWBS system works much like ArvinMeritor‘s OnGuard package for commercial trucks (as well as a similar system being developed by Bendix for commercial vehicles, due for release next year.) Ford‘s system uses radar to detect moving vehicles directly ahead and when the danger of a collision is detected, the system warns the driver with an audible “beep” and a red warning light projected on the windshield above the instrument panel.


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More importantly, the system also automatically pre-charges brakes and engages a brake-assist feature that helps drivers quickly reach maximum braking once the brakes are engaged, stresses Paul Mascarenas, Ford‘s vice president of engineering for global product development.


“The new CWBS technology puts us on the leading edge of active safety to help customers detect and avoid possible dangers,” he says. “Ford will be the first to offer this technology on mainstream models that many families can afford.”


CWBS is one of three new radar-based active safety and driver-aid technologies Mascarenas says Ford is launching across a range of vehicles in 2008 and 2009. The others are adaptive cruise control (or ACC, launched just this year) along with blind spot information systems (BLIS) with cross traffic alert, which debuts in 2009. All three features use radar to detect the relative position of other vehicles and warn the driver with a combination of visual and audio alerts.


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He notes that CWBS builds on the basic function of adaptive cruise control (the same technological building block used in heavy trucks), which uses radar to detect moving vehicles immediately ahead and modify cruising speed if necessary.


“Adaptive cruise control really marked the beginning of pre-emptive driver-assistance systems,” says Jerry Engelman, Ford‘s ACC-supervisor for chassis electronics. “We were able to use the radar technology and experience to develop collision warning with brake support system.”


Why is all the safety system stuff Ford is introducing here so important to trucks? Consider this: according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the majority of accidents involve driver inattention. In fact, the agency found that one extra second of warning could prevent up to 90% of rear-end collisions and wouldn‘t you know it, CWBS can offer three programmable alert settings giving light vehicle drivers approximately 1.5 seconds to 2.5 seconds worth of warning time.


“It depends on the user‘s preference, because one person‘s false alarm may be another person's near miss, and it's important that drivers are comfortable with the system,” says Tom Pilutti, technical expert, with Ford‘s Research and Advanced Engineering group. Some people have a slower reaction time, and the longer time setting may meet their needs better than the shorter setting. Our research shows that most drivers will prefer and feel more comfortable with the longer default setting.”


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Then there‘s this set of statistics: according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, forward collision warning systems like CWBS could help prevent the kind of rear-end crashes that occurred 2.3 million times per year from 2002-2006 - or almost 40% of the total crashes reported to police each year in the U.S.


Of course, we‘re just at the starting line here. Most of these technologies don‘t start reaching production models until next year - and with the economic crisis we‘re in now, will consumers be ready to buy them, much less even consider purchasing new cars? One wishes these safety advances came to the market sooner, but as they are all based on complex technology that‘s got to work consistently day in and day out over the life of the vehicle, it can‘t happen overnight. Also, these technologies are aimed initially at Ford's car models -- so when they reach their light trucks is anybody's guess (let's hope sooner rather than later.)


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Let‘s also hope Ford stays financially healthy long enough to bring these technologies to market, for they just may provide the distinct competitive advantage the long-suffering automaker has looked for these last ever-tougher years.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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