Monday, March 04, 2013

Automotive Technology Extends the Driving Life of Seniors

Last week I was invited to address the annual convention of the Florida Association of Computer Users Group (FACUG) at the Club Med in Port St. Lucie Florida. The topic the president of the their club, Sam Wexler, asked me to speak on was what new technology and anticipated technology was there that would allow drivers in their seventies, eighties, and beyond to continue driving their cars safely.

After researching this, I was struck by how much technology was already in place and available today that most people, including me, are unaware of. The new technology which is on the horizon is absolutely amazing. Also, as I looked back on the many technological developments we’ve seen since 1908, with the introduction of the Model T Ford, I was made a aware of how far we’ve already come.

You might say that I took this topic personally. A couple of years ago I had the bad experience of a rogue cop anonymously reporting me to the Florida Department of Traffic Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV) as an incompetent driver. I didn’t know for sure who had reported me but when I learned that the cop who ticked me for speeding was married to a woman who I had recently fired and who had sued me for unlawful termination, I was very suspicious. I was later able to confirm my suspicions when I sued the cop and the town and the judge ordered the FHSMV to release the name of person who reported me. I was required by the FHSMV to be evaluated physically and mentally and take a driving and written test to keep my license. I passed all of the tests “with flying colors”. But, I’ll never forget how worried I was and how much sleep my wife and I lost anguishing over “what if” I should lose my driving privileges. Long before this incident, I wrote an article entitled “Grandma’s and Grandpa’s Freedom Machine” which discussed how vitally important the right to drive is for seniors and how much we fear losing it.

Think of the technological improvements that have been made since the introduction of the first practical, mass production car, the Model T Ford. That car had zero options and accessories. I dare say that very few older people would be physically capable of regularly driving a Model T Ford today. Today we take power steering, power brakes, and automatic transmission for granted. How about power windows and door locks, seat belts, air-conditioning, air bags, tilt steering wheels, cruise controls, etc. Technology we already have has added many years to the driving lives of seniors.
I’m embarrassed to tell you that I didn’t even realize that there are many new innovations that are already standard on cars today that I did not realize until I researched this subject. And I’m not talking about “far out stuff” you can only get on luxury cars. I’m talking about innovations that allow seniors do drive safer and longer than ever before available now on low and medium price cars like Toyota Camrys and Ford Fusions. Here are some of them.

Blind Spot Monitor. This technical marvel uses sub-millimeter radar to monitor those blind spots that exist on all make and model cars. When you turn on your turn signals to change lanes this device lights up warning indicators on your side view mirrors to tell you “Don’t change lanes because there’s a car alongside you that you cannot see!”

Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA). This same invention, sub-millimeter radar, tells you if another car is approaching as you are backing out of your parking place at the shopping mall or your home driveway. If RCTA detects an imminent collision, a warning will sound and LED’s will light up in the interior rear view mirror to further alert the driver.

Pre-collision System.  This also uses sub-millimeter radar and predicts and braces for collision before impact. When the pre-crash collision system detects an obstruction (such as a leading vehicle) and determines a high possibility of collision, it increases the braking force when the driver hits the brakes. If it determines the collision is unavoidable, the pre-crash brake activated to decrease the impact speed. At the same time the pre-crash seatbelt retracts to restrain the driver to help reduce injury.

Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS). Helps prevent brakes from locking. The ABS (Anti-lock Brake System) monitors the speed of each wheel to detect locking. When it detects sudden braking, it will release braking pressure for a moment and then provide optimum braking pressure to each wheel. By repeating this process in a short period of time, it enhances steering control during sudden stops. As a result, it will also help improve the ability of stopping the vehicle. ABS only supports the driver's control of the vehicle, and it is not a substitute for it. It is the driver's responsibility to drive at the appropriate speed depending on the condition of the road and to keep a generous distance from the car ahead of you. 

Brake Assist (BA). Studies show that nearly half of all drivers do not step on the brake quickly and strongly enough to stop the vehicle in case of an emergency.  When Brake Assist detects an attempted panic stop, it supports drivers by strengthening the power. Brake Assist will detect attempted panic braking based on the force that is applied to the brake pedal and how fast the driver is stepping on the pedal. When the system recognizes sudden braking, it will add additional pressure to the brake. When your foot is released during Braking Assist, braking power lessens and regulates the brakes with ease. 

Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). Helps prevent wheels from slipping sideways when cornering or sudden steering. VSC is a system that helps prevent side skids and help stabilize the vehicle while turning on a curve. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) report, vehicles equipped with VSC compared to those without can effectively reduce single-vehicle accidents by 35% for automobiles and 67% for Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV). When the vehicle senses a loss of traction or a slip, braking is automatically applied to all 4 individual wheels and engine power is reduced to help secure the safety of the vehicle. For example, if the steering wheel refuses to turn from over-speeding (under-steering), the vehicle will take control to steer toward the inner curve. Also, when the vehicle begins to spin from abrupt steering handling (over-steering), the vehicle will take control to steer toward the outer curve.

Traction Control (TRAC). When you are starting the vehicle or accelerating on a wet surface, you could lose control of the wheel because of wheel spin. TRC will help prevent such events from happening. TRC continually monitors the condition between the tires and the surface of the road. When it detects wheel spin, the system applies brakes or slows down the engine to regulate spinning and help ensure proper contact of tires. This helps prevent the car from becoming unstable.

Park Assist. Ultrasonic rear parking sensors mounted across the rear bumper can help drivers to be more aware of obstacles out of their range of vision when reversing. By listening to the beeping, you'll know if you are getting too close to the object behind you.

Dynamic Laser Cruise Control. The DLCC system is designed to help control the distance between the vehicle and the traveling vehicle ahead based on the driving lanes, the vehicle traveling ahead, and vehicle speed. The vehicle-to-vehicle distance control mode is controlled by a laser sensor and distance control Electronic Control Unit (ECU).

Automatic high beam. If you have your high beams on, the headlights will lower automatically when encountering vehicles coming from the opposite direction.

Rain-sensing windshield wipers. Activate the wipers when rain is detected. The driver can adjust the sensitivity to his or her liking. The rain sensors will also automatically disengage cruise control when rain is detected.

Safety Connect: Similar to GM’s OnStar System. It has the following features:

Automatic Collision Notification - In the event of airbag deployment or a severe rear-end collision, the 24/7 response center will be automatically notified. The response center agent will attempt to speak with the vehicle’s occupants, and will advise local emergency services of the situation, requesting dispatch of emergency services to the vehicle’s location if necessary.
Emergency Assistance Button - In the event of an emergency, touch the Emergency Assistance button and you'll be connected to our 24/7 response center (within range, location and coverage). They’ll contact local providers and dispatch emergency services to your vehicle's location if needed.
Roadside Assistance – if you run out of gas, get a flat, need a jump start or require a tow truck, the 24/7 Safety Connect response center can help with Toyota roadside assistance via the SOS button.
Stolen Vehicle Notification - In the event that an enrolled vehicle is stolen, once a police report is filed and the 24/7 response center is notified by the vehicle’s owner, the response center agents can assist the authorities in locating the vehicle, using GPS technology. That means the vehicle is more likely to be recovered quickly, which may help minimize damage.

Smart Stop Technology (SST). In emergency situations, this new system overrides manual operation when both the accelerator and brake pads are pressed simultaneously. The system only engages when the accelerator is pressed before the brake pad at speeds over five mph, in certain conditions. In other words, if the car begins to accelerate on its own, you can kill the engine by simultaneously depressing the brake.

Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). An electronic brake force distribution system uses sensors to monitor the condition of the road and the vehicle's weight distribution to determine where the most brake force is necessary. It automatically increases or decreases force accordingly.

Advanced Airbag Systems. Advanced airbag technologies tailor airbag deployment to the severity of the crash, the size and posture of the vehicle occupant, belt usage, and how close that person is to the actual airbag. It uses multi-stage inflators that deploy less forcefully in stages in moderate crashes than in very severe crashes. Occupant sensing devices let the airbag control unit know if someone is occupying a seat adjacent to an airbag, the mass/weight of the person, whether a seat belt or child restraint is being used, and whether the person is forward in the seat and close to the airbag. Based on this information and crash severity information, the airbag is deployed at either a high force level, a less forceful level, or not at all.

Backup Camera. When the vehicle is put into reverse, a rear facing camera is activated and the view directly behind and to the sides of the vehicle is displayed on a monitor. Graphical guidelines are displayed on the camera image to help the drive guide the vehicle in reverse.

Remember, everything I just covered is available now in many affordable cars. You should investigate what is available in which makes and models before you make a purchase decision.
Now, if you’re just a youngster, say only 65 years old, you can forget about ever having to stop driving your car for as long as you live. The driverless car is almost a reality. You may be able to buy one in as soon as five years! Google has driverless cars on roads today in several states including Florida. If you want to be amazed, just click on this link,  , or copy and paste it in your browser. You can watch a blind man “drive” the Google Prius around town. You just get in this car and tell it where you want to go. It “sees” and reacts to everything a human can, only faster and smarter. It “sees” other cars, stop signs, curves in the road, children in the street, etc. You can get in the car, tell it to take you to Publix, and catch up on your reading on the way.

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