Active Safety in Motor Vehicles: Considering the Implications for Child Occupants and Teen Drivers
December 2, 2014
“The best accident is an accident avoided right from the start – an accident that never happens.”
This was part of the keynote address of Klaus Kompass, Vice-President of Vehicle Safety at BMW, at the recent Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine (AAAM) Conference in Munich, Germany. In his remarks, Mr. Kompass highlighted the evolving role of active safety technologies in motor vehicles to reduce fatalities and injuries, emphasizing the need to clearly understand the threshold between technology and human/driver engagement through research and evidence.
Active safety (or primary safety) refers to safety systems that are active prior to a crash. This compares with forms of passive safety (or secondary safety) technology which are automatically activated during a crash and often are federally mandated, such as lap and shoulder seat belts, inflatable seatbelts, or air bags. Active safety systems, although traditionally non-complex, have more recently evolved to include advanced safety systems such as anti-lock braking systems (ABS), electronic vehicle stability control (ESC), lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking to avoid collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians, blind spot detection, and others. And the field is still evolving – in August 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a comprehensive research report on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology, which would allow vehicles to communicate information to each other to prevent crashes and, ultimately, injuries and fatalities to occupants.
The evolution of active safety systems has direct implications for child and adolescent motor vehicle occupants and teen drivers. As such, child safety researchers have many questions to consider:
What are the typical child occupant positions before a crash and how do these influence newer active occupant pre-positioning technologies such as seat belt pretensioners?
Can we involve computational modeling to predict child occupant positions before a crash to better model active safety algorithms? For example, the addition of a child’s active muscle movement can aid realistic pre-crash positioning and provide more accurate crash kinematics.
How does this impact driver training and education for new teen drivers? For example, do these features change the way teens are taught fundamental driving skills such as scanning for potential hazards if the vehicle can do it for them?
How will teenage drivers and new drivers respond to active safety messages and warnings?
Will even experienced drivers need additional training on how to use these more advanced safety features to protect themselves and all vehicle occupants, including children?
There is, however, a thin line between when an active safety technology takes over versus human interaction. As we move into the realm of vehicles that are increasingly automated and even driverless, the role of driving simulators and active computational models will play a significant role in fine tuning these active safety algorithms to optimally protect vehicle occupants.