Modern Road Safety: The Shortcomings of Crash Avoidance Technology and Inadequate Equipment

Written by Atlee Hall

Recent developments in automotive technology have made cars largely safer and better designed. While many of these technologies are standard, especially in newer vehicles, many are not required by law.

As evidenced by the Supreme Court decision in Williamson v. Mazda (2010), car manufacturers can be held liable if they sell a defective or unsafe vehicle or fail to equip some safety features.

Traditional Modern Vehicle Safety Features and Loss of Control Accidents

Electronic Stability Control

Loss of control accidents presents a problem on American roadways, leading to many injuries and deaths yearly. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) targets this issue. It aims to improve the control of a vehicle by monitoring whether a driver is about to lose control of a vehicle or braking systems.

Sensors continuously monitor how well a vehicle responds to a driver’s steering wheel input. When a car strays from its intended line of travel, ESC automatically brakes each wheel to keep the vehicle under control.

Side Airbags

Side airbags are another safety device that aren’t federally required. However, they are standard on vehicles made in and after 2004. The side structure of vehicles has relatively little space to absorb energy, unlike the front and rear frames of vehicles with substantial crumple zones. Therefore, side airbags provide cushion to soften the impact on the interior side structures of the vehicle.

There are three main types of side airbags:

  • Torso Side Airbags – Found on the side of the seat or in the door, these intend to protect an adult’s torso in a severe side-impact crash.
  • Head Side Airbags –These are mounted in the seat or above the side window and designed to protect the occupant’s head in a side impact crash. Head side airbags can be further broken down into two categories: 1) Curtain Side Airbags, to protect occupants in a side impact crash and prevents ejection during a rollover, and 2) Inflatable Tubular Structures, which provide head protection and may reduce ejection rate.
  • Head/Torso Combination Side Airbags – Combination side airbags are usually mounted on the side of the seat. Head/torso side airbags are designed to help protect an adult’s head and torso.

Rollover Curtain or Canopy Airbags

Similar to the concept of frontal airbags and side impact airbags, rollover airbags or safety canopies are designed to offer protection in a rollover. Most 2018 and newer vehicles have side curtain airbags to prevent occupants from being ejected through side windows.

Adaptive Load Limiters

The problem with conventional load limiters is that one size does not fit all. People come in all different sizes and are involved in various types of crash severities. Research has shown that a continuous real-time adjustable load limiter will provide greater protection for occupants under different crash severities.

Failure to Equip with Crash Avoidance Technology (CAT)

Crash avoidance technologies (CAT) are usually software-based. Many also involve onboard cameras. These technologies are only available in newer cars—opening the door to liability for failure to equip in the coming years.

A prominent example is Tesla’s autopilot feature, which is standard on its vehicles. Such features stretch CAT to its limit, and the future of autonomous cars presents further questions regarding car safety and liability.

Acceleration, Braking, and Pre-Collision Systems

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is a cruise control system that automatically engages the vehicle’s brakes and acceleration to control the distance between the driver and other vehicles or objects on the road. For example, when the cruise control is set on the highway, and a slower-moving car merges ahead, your vehicle will automatically engage the brakes to prevent or mitigate a collision. When that car merges back over, the ACC system will bring your vehicle back up to speed.

The “Stop & Go” function, a sub-system of ACC, is designed for use in traffic jams to automatically accelerate, steer within the lane, and stop the vehicle.

Forward Collision Warning

Forward Collision Warning (FCW) is a camera-based or radar-based system that utilizes object recognition and speed detection to determine whether the relative speed between a vehicle and an object on the road presents a risk of impending collision.

In conjunction with FCW, the Automatic Emergency Braking System (AEBS) or Predictive Emergency Braking System (PEBS) activates automatically when the FCW system determines the distance between the driver and a vehicle or object on the road is becoming critically short. When it detects this danger, the system may alert the driver, initiate partial braking, and prepare the brakes for emergency stopping.

Lateral Safety Systems

Lane Assist systems, such as Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), and Lane Centering Assist (LCA), are designed to promote lateral safety. These systems use cameras to alert a driver when the vehicle crosses a road lane marking or the edge of the road. Side View Assist (SVA) systems also promote lateral safety by continually monitoring a range of areas at the vehicle’s rear through an ultrasonic sensor.

Parking Assist Systems

Parking Assist systems promote safe backup techniques. The Rear-View System complements a standard rear-view camera with an ultrasonic sensor. The sensor allows the driver to see an image of what is behind the vehicle and the distances of objects behind it. Parking Assistant utilizes an ultrasonic sensor and calculates the best path into a parking spot.

Once found, the system alerts the driver to press a button to park. The driver will still have to engage the gas and brakes, but the steering will be hands-free.

Advanced Lighting Systems

Intelligent Headlight Control systems use a video camera to measure ambient brightness and estimate the distance between vehicles and oncoming traffic. Night vision systems use either an active infrared light invisible to humans or a thermographic camera to provide the driver on a video screen the ability to see greater distance than conventional low beam lights.

Additional Advancements in Safety Features

Road Sign Recognition systems utilize a video camera to detect speed limit road signs. Then, they display the speed limit as a symbol in the vehicle’s cockpit.

Driver Drowsiness Detection is a system that identifies when a driver does not steer for a brief period and then abruptly corrects their steering. The system analyzes the frequency and strength of the driver’s reactions. Additionally, it collects data such as speed, time of day, and other indicators to know when to engage warning signals. Warning signals may be visual or audible to remind a driver about the dangers of nodding off at the wheel.

Failure to Equip Cases Aren’t Going Away

The bottom line is no safety feature should be an option. Traditional “failure to equip” cases — such as lack of ESC, side airbags, and rollover curtains — will still occur for the foreseeable future. If you were hurt in a car accident and believe the vehicle manufacturer could be held accountable, contact the experienced attorneys of Atlee Hall. We can help determine liability and help you seek the relief you need.

Fill out our online contact form or call our office at (717) 393-9596 to schedule your free consultation today.