By Sanober Bukhari
FACT: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers ages 13-19. About half of these deaths were due to not wearing a seat belt.
To kick off Teen Driver Safety week, General Motors invited the media to a safety event at the Warren Technical Centre, Milford Proving Grounds and OnStar Command centre in Detroit; Showing us how they are in the forefront of using technology in the ‘before, during and after’ experience of a crash.
Let’s face it, as a parent handing over the car keys to your newly licensed teenager is terrifying. Morbid thoughts of a collision linger at the back of your head. Safe Kids Worldwide released a study in June indicating that one in four teens did not use a seat belt on every ride. Why? Either they were not in the habit of it (often forgot), did not think it necessary for short distances or they simply chose not to wear it because of discomfort. Add to the fact that young drivers overestimate their driving experience and underestimate the dangers on the road, how is a parent supposed to protect their child?
General Motors, a leading manufacturer in the automotive industry is a stout supporter of programs which help keep teens safe as drivers and as passengers. They strongly advocate education and encourage parents to discuss driver safety and model good driving habits to their children, even before they are eligible to drive.
An alarming discovery from the research revealed 49 percent of teens reported feeling unsafe while riding with another teen driver and 31 percent felt unsafe while riding with a parent. We may think that our years of driving experience allows us some leeway on how we drive, but never forget your child is always looking up to you and learning from your actions.
GM’s safety panel consisted of Jeff Boyer, VP Global Vehicle Safety, John Capp, Director Global Safety Strategy & Vehicle Programs, Kirk Ferris, Director Driver Programs Division of Michigan Department of State and Torine Creppy, Chief Program Office Safe Kids Worldwide. While our discussion with them sombered us with these findings, they also shared ground rules as defined by The National Highway Safety Administration on how we as parents can take back control on our teens driving; securing their safety as much as possible.
Five to Drive Rules of the Road:
1. No cell phones
2. No extra passengers
3. No speeding
4. No alcohol
5. Always buckle up
Essentially what the above list is saying is, no distractions allowed. When I got my license, the keys to a stereotypical family minivan were handed to me until I earned my chops to drive Abbu-ji’s cool sedan. Cell phones weren’t used regularly and they certainly weren’t the addiction they are now. Forget texting while driving, try changing the multiple disc CD tray and keeping your eyes on the road WHILE chauffeuring your loud big fat desi family around. That was a disaster waiting to happen.
The most exciting and reassuring part of this two day extensive tour of GM’s technical facilities was learning the incredible use of technology for collision avoidance (Before), collision management (During) and post-collision occupant protection (After). I was privileged, along with the media team to experience some of this latest technology first hand. I was impressed.
Within the Warren Technical Centre is the CAVE (Computer Aided Vehicle Engineering) & Virtual Reality room. The first impression is that of entering Q’s lab (reference James Bond). Here, Joe Guzman, Global Virtual Design Process & Operations explained how they use CAD data pulled from production plans of specific vehicles to create ‘stereo’ imagery which assists engineering design; developing solutions before the actual vehicle is even available.
In short, they can take the detailed plans of a car that has not been built yet to create a virtual simulation of how it will look, feel, function and also how it will react to crash simulations.
This allows the engineering and design team to adjust and modify the plans, work out any kinks before the vehicle goes into final production. We were actually allowed to wear the simulation goggles and experience sitting inside a virtual car.
The Milford Proving Grounds is celebrating 90 years. It is one of the largest active automotive safety testing areas in North America. It has over 200 km of road system and a six lane highway simulator of varying lane widths from 8 countries and select states. 52 acres has recently been added to develop, test and validate Active Safety or crash avoidance.
This includes a 16-acre dynamics pad for open space testing and evaluation of sensors and performance of cutting-edge systems involving autonomous control and vehicle-to-vehicle communication, i.e. testing grounds for eventual self-driving cars (it is clearly not too far off in the future.)
It was here that we were shown demonstrations of some of the features that will improve safety and essentially change the future of driving.
Adaptive Cruise Control
Here the cruise control speed that is set automatically adjusts if the vehicle in front of you slows down and resumes as the vehicle in front picks up speed. This would help in collision avoidance.
Front Automatic Braking
This demo gave the most visceral experience. The vehicle automatically brakes the moment it senses the vehicle in front has suddenly come too close to yours. This would clearly avoid a collision especially due to driver distraction.
Side Blind Zone
There is a visual alert in the side view mirrors the moment a vehicle is in or close to your blind zone. This alert is engaging to make sure it draws your eyes into the mirror which is where you should be looking.
Rear Vision & Rear Cross Traffic alert
This uses a rear camera vision system that has a 130 degree field of view. There is radar at the back which will detect if anything is behind the vehicle up to 12 metres. If there is a vehicle it will alert on screen based on time to potential impact (depending on speed of the vehicle approaching from behind) and beep until you slow down.
Automatic Park Assist
This allows the car to search for parking spots. The ultrasonic system gauges space between other vehicles. You flip the signal to indicate which side you want to park.
Lastly we finally got to meet the celebrity who paved the way for furthering vehicle safety. None other than the Crash Test Dummy, the original Hybrid III made by GM and standardized across the car manufacturing industry. Its technical name is of course Anthropomorphic Testing Device (ATD).
At the ATD Lab we were introduced to Jack Jensen, Engineering Group Manager and Technical Fellow and Julie Kleinert, Global Technical Lead for Child Safety who took us on a tour of the lab which houses almost 200 dummies of various sizes, including toddler and baby sizes! It is also the testing facility where the dummies are certified for testing accuracy. Fun fact: a typical crash test occurs in 150 milliseconds which is about 1/7 of one second. So it is important every variable in dummy testing is accounted for.
Another interesting fact is that out of 200 various crash tests conducted only 40% of them are legally required. The additional 60% are done as GM’s own internal requirement. So it is safe to say, General Motors takes collision avoidance very seriously.
This was a valuable opportunity to really see and understand the technology and thought that goes into vehicle manufacturing and active safety. Since my only exposure to cars growing up has been Japanese makes as that was how South Asian’s in the Motherland rolled, I have to say I have much more knowledge and respect for the brands and manufacturer I learned about during this trip.
It has opened my eyes to the way I personally view driving and how I would want to teach this awareness to my own child. I am also confidant that the future of driving is in good hands and safety measures can only get better. We are about to witness incredible innovation. I for one can’t wait.
Stay tuned as I share my visit to GM’s OnStar Command Centre- taking collision management to new heights!
This post was done in partnership with Chevrolet Canada.
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