Kwik Fit | Tuesday 13th June 2017 2:23pm
Itís one of those often-quoted sayings that you are far more likely to die on the road than in an air traffic accident. As many as 1 in 10 people have a fear of flying yet relatively few would say they are afraid to drive or be a passenger in a car. In reality 1.24 million road deaths are recorded worldwide each year, dwarfing the number of aviation related fatalities (just 325 last year). In 2016 alone, 1,810 people were killed on UK roads and a further 23,350 seriously injured; a number that doesnít sit well with Continental. The German manufacturer is well known for being one of the worldís largest manufacturers of premium tyres with a focus on performance and safety. But what many donít realise is that Continental designs and builds an increasing number of vehicle safety features so itís not too surprising that the number of accidents is a cause for concern.
Continental donít just want to reduce the number of road deaths, their goal is
to stop them entirely and contribute to a world in which one day there will be
no road accidents. This is Continentalís Vision Zero.
Creating a world with zero fatalities, zero injuries and zero accidents on the road may seem like a fanciful pipe dream, which is why Continental created Vision Zero Live, a half day event for the motor industry that will be rolled out to the wider public later this year in order to show the work being done to make Vision Zero a reality. The Kwik Fit team were invited along to see for ourselves the progress made so far.
Autonomous Emergency Braking
Arriving at the Bruntingthorpe Proving Grounds in Leicestershire and surrounded by decommissioned aircraft, the Conti team introduce us to the Vision Zero objective and waste no time in getting us out on to the track in a Volvo V40 R Line to demonstrate how Continentalís technology is changing vehicle safety. In this particular model the entire braking system fitted as standard is designed and manufactured by Continental Ė from pedal to wheel. The vehicle is also fitted with AEB Ė Autonomous Emergency Braking which we got to see working first hand. About 100 metres down the track is a soft test vehicle Ė an inflatable car to describe it better Ė which we are asked to drive towards at 16mph but told not to brake or swerve as if to hit the vehicle. Itís a peculiar feeling, like being told not to put your hands out to break a fall, and the urge to hit the brakes as the Volvo approaches the test target is almost too much to resist. But then all of a sudden, the vehicle brakes hard on its own and stops a good foot from the test target in front. A combination of radar, stereo cameras and lidar have identified the potential hazard, relayed this to the Volvoís onboard computer and taken emergency action to prevent a crash.
Itís a real taste of the self-driving cars of tomorrow. The technology is fitted as standard in this Volvo but is available as an optional extra in a growing number of vehicles for just a few hundred pounds. Seeing how effective the technology can be in preventing a crash, it is certainly surprising that this is not yet fitted as standard in more vehicles
Electronic Stability Control
Next, we are asked to approach a slalom of cones at around 30mph and navigate the course. At this speed, successfully completing the course without hitting the cones or drifting dangerously wide would be near impossible if not for the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system which sees the vehicle (and driver) maintain a surprisingly reassuring level of control throughout the course. The ESC system constantly evaluates data from sensors around the vehicle monitoring wheel speed, steering angle and lateral acceleration and if an unstable state is detected such as a sudden direction change, ESC responds immediately and stabilises the vehicle through wheel specific brake intervention. Leaving the slalom, the instructor tells us to get the vehicle up to 40mph and then perform a sudden lane change and avoid an obstacle ahead by braking and swerving at the last moment. Itís not for the faint hearted but the Volvo takes the hazards in its stride and never once do you feel out of control of the vehicle.
The role of the driver
Vision Zero Live wasnít just about vehicle technology and in the next segment Conti were keen to show how driver behaviour is key to reducing the number of road accidents. Our cars are full of distractions, whether it be changing a CD, updating the sat nav destination or even eating a sweet and while it may seem harmless enough to quickly reach for the glove box, we experienced first hand that the driverís focus should always remain on the road. Driving a Mini Cooper S along a set course of cones at just 20mph, we were asked to complete a series of tasks, from reaching for a pen on the floor, writing a text message and unwrapping a sweet. In each instance we were unable to maintain full control of the Mini while completing the task and in the case of writing a text on a phone, we took out a number of the poor innocent cones! Technology such as AEB and ESC are certainly helping to reduce accidents caused by driver distraction but by also changing driver behaviour, the problem can be tackled at the route cause.
In the final track test, Continental showed off some of their latest tyre safety features helping to keep drivers going in the event of a puncture. Driving 3 identical BMW 1 Series M Sport, all with a simulated puncture, we were able to see how the vehicle would handle differently when fitted with different tyres. The first was fitted with regular summer tyres with the air completely removed from the front nearside tyre. This vehicle acted as the control to experience what it felt like to drive on a completely flat tyre. Needless to say, the vehicle became difficult to handle, exhibited heavy steering and suffered from greatly increased road noise. After a morning of test laps the tyre had already started to show excessive and irregular wear along the tyre edges.
Similarly, the second vehicle also had the air removed from the front nearside tyre however this vehicle was fitted with Continental Self Supporting Runflat (SSR) tyres. The reinforced sidewalls of the SSR tyre made the puncture difficult to notice beyond the increased road noise but handled much better than the regular tyre allowing the driver to travel up to 50 miles at a maximum speed of 50mph to get to the nearest tyre specialist.
The third vehicle was fitted with Contiseal tyres and was clearly the party-piece of the test. The instructor takes a drill and proceeds to insert a 2 inch screw into the tyre, easily big enough to cause a blow out under normal circumstances. However, the Contiseal tyre is filled with a sticky, viscous substance on the inside of the tread that acts as a sealant if the tyre is penetrated by a foreign object such as our offending screw.
The hole remains sealed and unlike a runflat tyre, thereís no need to replace the tyre at the earliest opportunity. In fact the punctured tyre should last until the end of its standard tread life. As expected, the vehicle with the punctured Contiseal tyre drove like nothing was amiss and itís easy to see how these tyres could prevent accidents and even save lives if you were to have a blow out at speed.
Accidents belong in a museum
Vision Zero Live was a great opportunity to discover first-hand how premium tyres and vehicle safety systems are taking us one step closer to Continentalís aspiration of an accident-free future. Continental plans to hold more Vision Zero Live events later in the year that are open to the public and free to attend. You can find out more at www.visionzeroworld.com.
Advances in car safety technology have already helped make crash test results like this a thing of the past. Continental hopes that its research and development in this area will one day put a stop to road accidents.
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