There’s been an upsurge in cars with features to stop you from having accidents. Manufacturers are experimenting with automatic braking and speed limiters, but do these flashy safety systems really help?
Systems that sense what’s happening nearby aren’t particularly new. Lots of cars have parking sensors these days.
And automatic braking isn’t new either. Electronic stability control (ESC) – which automatically applies the brakes to help stop you skidding if you have to steer at high speed – becoming mandatory on all newly launched models from 2012 and on all cars sold new by 2014.
The future of safety features
But some makers have gone much further. There are speed limiters to prevent you accidentally exceeding the limit, and systems now exist which check whether you’re drifting out of your lane. Other cars monitor the road in front and automatically apply the brakes if you’re getting too close or if they sense that an accident might occur.
In my view, these developments raise lots of questions:
- Do these flashy safety systems really help? Or do they take all the fun out of driving?
- Do they simply hinder a good driver from getting the best out of the car’s performance?
- Are we heading for the day when a car will drive itself?
In my view, the answer to the first question is yes they do help and no they don’t take the fun out of driving! Euro NCAP and the Department for Transport studied accident data from Sweden, Germany and the USA and established that, without doubt, electronic stability control (ESC) makes a major contribution towards accident prevention.
I’m confident that other such systems will have similarly positive effects. And the very presence of these systems means you can push the car harder towards its limit before the safety systems cut-in to prevent you losing control.
If you’re a top-class racing driver, this probably does remove the thrill. But most people aren’t top-class, and aren’t racing drivers (even if they think they are).
Cars that drive themselves?
And will systems evolve that combine with network management systems (where cars ‘talk’ to each other and to ‘the network’) to produce cars that drive themselves? Yes – one day, we will be able to type in our destination, a bit like we do with a sat nav now, then sit back and let the car do its stuff.
An additional benefit will be that carmakers will be able to scrap all the structural components that provide crash protection, but impede visibility and make cars heavy. Cars will be much lighter and altogether more efficient to run.
But I think we’re still quite a way off that target, so in the meantime we need to work out which systems are best at avoiding accidents. That’s our focus here at Which? – we’ve called for ESC to be mandatory, then, through our active role as partners in Euro NCAP, increased focus on not just protection but prevention.
To that end, we’ve carried out tests to compare some of the latest auto-braking systems from makers including Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Mercedes and Volvo to see which ones work best at preventing accidents.
Are you open to having special safety features in your car? Are there any that you already use and like – or would you rather drive without them?