You're driving along a winding road. There's another car in front of you, but it's far enough away that you don't pay it much mind. Instead, you take a moment to take in the scenery. You let your mind wander.
Then, out of nowhere, you realize that the car in front of you has come to a sudden stop. Panicking, you try to slam on the brakes, but you aren't able to slow down in time. You collide with the other vehicle with a violent jolt.
These kinds of accidents happen all the time. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, rear-end collisions make up the largest share of the 6 million car accidents that occur on U.S. roads every day. On average, there is one rear-end collision every eight seconds, and while the majority of these occur at low speeds and don't result in serious injuries, the number is still alarming. The NHTSA is concerned that the increased proliferation of smart devices and other distractions will only lead to additional rear-end collisions in the future.
Making Cars Safer in a Distracted World
As drivers, we all know that the open road can be a distracting place. So what can car manufacturers do to reduce rear-end collisions? The answer, it seems, is to take control out of the hands of the drivers.
New studies of experimental automatic braking systems show that when these controls are put into effect, the chance of a rear-end collision becomes less likely. Recently, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety examined automatic emergency braking systems and forward collision warning systems on a number of vehicles. It found that cars that were equipped with these systems experienced 39 percent fewer rear-end crashes, and 42 percent fewer drivers had injuries.
In particular, the IIHS lauded the performance of Volvo's City Safety technology in its report, writing that it "appears to be highly effective at reducing rear-end crashes and associated injuries reported to police, even on roadways with speed limits higher than the system's operating range." IIHS estimated that if every vehicle had been equipped with similar technology in 2013, as many as 750,000 police-reported accidents could have been avoided.
One finding from this study worth noting is that when the IIHS studied early warning systems alone, without automatic braking, the results were much less impressive. This shows that developing better brake technology and giving cars themselves the ability to stop themselves is the key to improving auto safety.