The 6th UN Road Safety Week kicks off from May 17-23, with this year’s theme centred on making our communities and roads safer for everyone – from motorists, passengers, cyclists, pedestrians and children.

Over the past few decades, vehicle safety has assumed greater significance – automakers are making safety a top priority just as they are focussing on luxury and driving comfort. And it does not mean only “airbags” or “safety belts”. Vehicle safety has come a long way – what was once an optional feature has now become standard equipment.

Car manufacturers are going the distance in incorporating as many safety features as possible. From reversing cameras to lane-assist systems to drowsiness detection to advanced braking systems and smart dashboards giving information about mechanical performance – today’s vehicles are outfitted with some of the most advanced features designed to make your ride safer and enjoyable.

Personally, I am excited to see the advancements being made in the field of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, or ADAS. This is a complete industry in itself within the vehicle safety industry and each day, as computers become smaller and cheaper, automakers have been adding them to their vehicles to improve performance, efficiency and safety. Some ADAS technologies are designed to improve a driver’s situational awareness, while others can take control of steering, throttle or braking systems.

While there is a great deal of argument on including such smart systems in a vehicle, given a few fatalities in recent times, the pros far outweigh the cons. Critics argue that the technology may make the driver complacent and that over-reliance on these technologies may make the motorist take safety for granted. On the other hand, proponents say that ADAS can enhance the driver’s safety and awareness on the road using smart sensors and also intervene in case of dangerous situations.

ADAS is already a hot debate among automakers and regulatory authorities the world over. Some government bodies such as Transport Canada are looking at establishing standards of incorporating the technology in vehicles. Among its top concerns are whether some of these ADAS features should be required on some new vehicles in Canada, in particular, school buses and commercial trucks. If the regulation is passed, these features would become standard equipment on new vehicles.

An increasing number of body shops and service centres across the world are investing in training and equipment to be able to service these “enabled” cars and differentiate their operations from the competition.

Steve Leal

Transport Canada is also exploring the possibility of determining performance requirements for some technologies when performance varies between manufacturers, or when there’s a safety risk. It is looking at establishing a strong set of metrics to determine whether a technology has met a safety goal.

In March this year, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) published its report into the existing levels of user awareness and satisfaction of ADAS, through an online survey of almost 10,000 participants residing in six European countries. The report found a high level of drivers’ trust in and satisfaction with ADAS technologies while mentioning that most ADAS users rely on information from the car seller, the user manual or they apply the ‘trial-and-error’ method to familiarize themselves with ADAS.

On the other hand, the Brussels-based International Road Transport Union (IRU) has thrown its weight behind ADAS, blaming 85% of all accidents to human error and that ADAS would help in significantly reducing collisions and fatalities.

Whatever the outcome of the debate, the technology is already opening up new opportunities for the aftermarket industry. An increasing number of body shops and service centres across the world are investing in training and equipment to be able to service these “enabled” cars and differentiate their operations from the competition.

I am confident that, in the years to come, this will be an important revenue stream for those keen to survive in the cutthroat aftermarket business. The interest in the technology is picking up quickly – at our three training centres in Canada, we are already seeing an exponential increase in demand from our franchisees to train their technicians to install, calibrate and fix such complex systems.

As the technology evolves, full implementation of ADAS will depend on a concerted action plan between the automobile manufacturing sector and the policy makers in the different countries. Hopefully, this will set the standard in how vehicles are developed and designed in future.

Steve Leal is President and CEO of Fix Network World.