On high speed highways not all drivers are able to detect stopped vehicles or construction workers ahead of their path. Automatic detection and deployment of automatic emergency braking could be very beneficial but that technology may take a long time to reach the majority of the vehicle fleet.

In recent days there have been several developments in South-Western Ontario where citizens and organizations attempted to highlight the need for specific safety features. Notably, a group originating from the Chatham, Ontario region has been pressing the Ontario government to install permanent concrete barriers in the median of Highway 401 in the 118 kilometres between Tilbury and London where no barriers exist. Only a few days ago the Ontario government indicated it would proceed with installation of those barriers but not until many years in the future. In the interim, high-tension cable median barriers (HTCMB) are to be installed commencing in 2018. The barriers are needed to prevent median crossover collisions which are often severe and sometimes result in fatalities. That would appear to be a good cause however a large number of collisions also occur when traffic is stopped, or slowed, resulting in serious rear-end impacts. Little concern or thought is given to how this large number of serious collisions could be avoided or reduced in their severity.

On a second front, an inquest has just been completed in St. Thomas, Ontario with respect to the death of a construction worker who was killed while operating as a Traffic Control Person (TCP) at a work zone on Highway 3 in St. Thomas in July of 2014. That inquest led to several recommendations that might be helpful but again, little mention was made of actions that could be taken to prevent such a worker from being struck by a driver who might not have seen the worker in time to avoid the collision.

In both of these instances, and in many others, Automatic Emergency Braking might make a large difference. Rather than relying on a driver’s vision and decision-making to apply deceleration to a vehicle, a variety of “automatic vision” systems can apply braking much earlier and do not need the driver’s involvement. This could have tremendous safety benefits.

However, a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimated that only about 5 percent of vehicles in 2021 will be equipped with this technology and 95 percent of vehicles will have this technology by about the year 2045. That is a long time to wait.

At a time when drivers are reportedly lulled into a state of “hypo-vigilance”, as recently commented by Ontario Ministry of Transportation representatives, it becomes extremely important to use automatic braking technology especially when various construction projects exist and collisions cause blockages to major roads such as Highway 401. Where drivers’ expectations may be fooled by unexpected happenings, automatic braking may be there to take control, if vehicles are so equipped. The public’s attention should be turned toward recognizing that we need this safety technology much sooner than 30 years from now.