RESEARCH - Tailgating

Follow too CloselyIn 2008, the Centre for Automotive Safety Research at the University of Adelaide, Australia, released a report that explored the role of tailgating in rear end crashes. It surprised me to learn that driver inattention was a bigger risk than following too closely.

I also learned that because of the possibility of a disturbance in flow being amplified as it passes from one vehicle to another, drivers bear a collective responsibility to vehicles behind them to try to dampen rather than amplify disturbances.

Potential measures to counter tailgating were discussed: advisory signs, markings on the road surface, enforcement by the police, a futuristic proposal for enforcement by the public, and improvements to the vehicle. There is reason to think that each of these would meet with some success.

Fast forward to 2022 and it is now common to have vehicles that do some of the thinking for us. Automatic Emergency Braking is a safety feature that prompts a driver who is not paying attention that they are too close to the vehicle in front of them.

While this is a good thing, scientists are evaluating how accurate forward collision warning systems are. because the base rate of collisions is low, sensitive FCW systems can provide a high rate of alarms in situations with no or low probability of collision, which may negatively impact driver responsiveness and satisfaction.


Automatic Braking

Many owners of an automatically braking vehicle I've talked to have an episode or several to share about the time their car suddenly applied brakes needlessly. Sometimes even causing a collision.

As an owner of a vehicle that only provides warnings, but no auto-braking, I can confirm that the warnings can be triggered by cars that aren't in my lane, or even by street lamp-posts on a bend. My car uses a video camera to detect such things, and I really wish that it was something more concrete like radar/lidar or ultra-sound, combined with the steering wheel position data, so the car knowns that I'm NOT "heading straight for it". I question these new safety features because quite often they only enable the typically uninterested and inattentive drivers. My car beeps at me whenever a car ahead pulls away, as if assuming that I'm texting or not paying attention. Quite often this happens when a right turning vehicle does their turn, but I still have a red light. And then it even has the audacity to "grade" me on my attention level.

Quite frankly, I've started to treat those warnings as if they are coming from a blind back-seat driver. I think my car needs to pass a road-test and get a license before it should even think to advise me on how to drive. On the other hand, I think it would be useful to have a "following too closely" alarm feature, that uses the minimum 2-seconds rule to warn me when I'm in the red-zone of the bumper ahead. But it should be radar/lidar based, not just a video camera.

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