Reducing the impact of human factors in braking: Where are we now?

Advanced driver assistance technology has been widely available to motorists for a number of years, and is a major selling point in terms of increasing vehicle safety. According to the United States Department of Transportation, more than 36,000 individuals died in vehicle crashes in the year 2019, and human factors were present in many of these accidents. From assisted braking to lane-keeping technology and more, it is clear that consumers are in the market for innovations that help reduce their contribution to the risk of accidents and harm.

What are some of the human factors in braking?
There are many ways to stratify the human factors involved in driving, and for the sake of this post, we can differentiate those tasks primarily involving perception (e.g., awareness of surroundings and recognition of threats) from those involving a reaction (e.g. cognitive response to threats and resulting physical action).

Using this manner of categorization, we can consider perception, as a human factor, to involve things like recognition of changes in traffic patterns or noticing that a pedestrian has stepped out into the road. The reaction to these scenarios would involve the chain of events leading from the brain's determination of how to mitigate the threat ("must stop car") to the actual action of stepping on the brake pedal.

A great deal of research has been, and is currently being, conducted on distraction as a human factor in driving, which straddles both perception and reaction. One study of college-aged students found that those who were engaged in a conversation via headphones while driving were more likely to have trouble maintaining a consistent driving speed, and there was concern for the participants' ability to perceive pedestrians and respond quickly by braking. While this is just one of many thousands of studies on the subject, it captures how multitasking — which has been normalized in modern life — can have a major impact on roadway safety.

The reactionary aspects of braking are also an area of intense research, especially with an aging population that, for the most part, would like to maintain their driving privileges for as long as possible. It has been well documented that cognitive processing and response times to events can vary with age, driving experience and physical condition; for example, elderly drivers may require longer to cognitively process and respond to events, which increases braking time, and use of certain medications can have a similar outcome in people of any age.

What are some of the assisted braking technologies available on the market today?
There are a handful of options currently available to drivers, including automatic emergency braking, pedestrian-specific automatic emergency braking, rear automatic braking and blind spot intervention. Let's discuss.

Automatic emergency braking is the all-comers' crash avoidance technology for impending impacts to the front of the vehicle. Through dynamic braking support and crash imminent braking, the two types of forward braking assistance, a vehicle will automatically attempt to slow itself in order to either prevent a collision or reduce the overall force of impact. According to one research study, this sort of technology was able to reduce up to 50% of collisions at speeds of 30 km/h or less; so while it may not be able to fully prevent a high-speed head-on collision, it might be able to reduce the catastrophic nature of the accident by some degree.

Pedestrian-specific automatic braking works in a similar manner, however with a presumed goal of avoiding pedestrian collisions altogether, since there is really no "safe" speed at which to be struck by a vehicle. 

Rear automatic braking is more or less the reverse-direction version of automatic emergency braking. It is particularly helpful for situations like backing out of a parking spot in a crowded lot, where a driver cannot possibly be simultaneously aware of all potential threats.

Finally, blind spot intervention is a combined driver assistance technology, which can brake for a driver and/or provide subtle steering assistance to help them remain in their lane instead of inadvertently swerving into a car in their blind spot.

The study of human factors as a contributor to brake performance is very relevant in automobile industry research and design, as well as overall traffic safety. As we continue to utilize assistive driving technology and shift toward integration of autonomous vehicles on the roads, it is likely that industry stakeholders will want to keep an eye on emerging data and policies that may inform key decision-making.

Greening Testing Laboratories is a fully certified brake testing lab that provides a variety of brake testing services worldwide. Contact Greening for a complimentary consultation.