New technologies are making roads safer for users — including those not in cars

Our network of roads and freeways may have been made with cars in mind, but drivers aren’t alone on our motorways. Motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists all also need to use the tarmac, and they’re doing so in increasing numbers; as recently reported in The West Australian, for example, there were 100,000 more bicycle trips across Perth last year than in 2013.

Those in the road-safety industry refer to these road users as vulnerable, as they are at greater risk of harm in a traffic accident. And unfortunately, the rise of vulnerable road user numbers on our streets also has seen a spike in accidents involving them; fatalities among cyclists and motorcyclists have increased since 2009.

Successfully sharing our roads is vitally important. While the person behind the wheel will always be the most important factor in avoiding accidents, there are design and technology advances in our cars which are also aimed at reducing the number of incidents between cars and vulnerable road users.

Thankfully, it’s easy for car buyers to know which cars offer pedestrian/cyclist/ motorcyclist protection, whether they’re buying a used or new vehicle. The RAC’s Used Car Safety Ratings guide labels used vehicles as a Safe Pick if they offer quality driver, pedestrian, cyclist and motorcyclist crash protection. New cars also now need to offer decent pedestrian safety measures to achieve a five-star crash rating from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program.

ANCAP technical manager Michael Paine said it was simple for car companies to help protect vulnerable road users, particularly in new vehicles.

“If it’s brought in early in the design process of the vehicle, it makes basically no effect on the cost of building the vehicle and very little change to the style of the vehicle, ” Mr Paine said. “It’s just things like moving bonnet catches further back so there’s a bit of crush on the front edge of the bonnet, and putting foam under the bumper so it absorbs a bit more energy if it strikes the lower legs.

“There’s also under-bonnet clearance: making sure the engine components aren’t too close to the actual bonnet, so the bonnet will bend if it’s hit by a pedestrian’s head.”

There also have been technological advances which will hopefully reduce the number of fatalities and injuries.

Reversing cameras have made a lot of headlines in recent times to avoid children being inadvertently run over when parents are reversing in driveways. The technology is now standard in most new cars sold in Australia and potentially could become mandatory as they soon will be in the US.

Mr Paine said the biggest recent technology to emerge was autonomous braking, which saw an on-board computer apply the brakes if it detected a collision was imminent.

“The five-star requirements are ramping up, ” Mr Paine said. “Euro NCAP will make autonomous braking part of their five-star rating in the next year or so, so ANCAP will have it in 2018.”

Other technology making its way into top-end vehicles includes night-vision displays, which uses heat detection to display pedestrians in areas headlamps can’t reach, bonnets which deploy airbags to cushion pedestrian impact and radars which detect pedestrians on the side of the road and monitor them.

Of course, these technologies won’t have the desired effect if drivers aren’t paying attention and doing the right thing.

But Mr Paine said early signs showed the new features didn’t make drivers blase.


© The West Australian