It starts with a new airbag, innovated by Honda
When Joni Stuker starts to tell a story you know you’re going to laugh; her bubbly voice and rascally smile get you primed for belly laughs. We sat around a conference table a year ago as she launched into a story she dubbed “Eat the Burrito,” and the title made us chuckle. But as we listened to her recount the car crash that almost ended her laughter forever, we fell silent.
Her car was rear ended in traffic and the force was so great that it was pushed across the road into oncoming traffic and and she was hit again. She nearly died.
We all know someone like Joni. While our cars are twice as safe as they were a decade ago, 37,000 people die each year in a car crash. Women are twice as likely as men to be seriously injured and the damage can be traumatic, from broken bones to brain injuries.
A Lofty but Attainable Goal: Zero Crashes, Zero Collisions
The thought of losing someone we love, a friend, a colleague, a reliable source of laughter and friendship, is devastating. And so our legislators, regulators and automotive leaders have a goal of zero crashes.
Honda is taking the idea further with a goal of zero collisions. This is what is behind their Safety For Everyone initiative, driving development, innovation and new systems that keep drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists safe on the road.
We toured Honda’s research and development center outside Columbus, Ohio and were able to sit with a team of engineers and safety experts to talk about how we can prevent crashes and collisions and make our streets safer.
Safety For Everyone Starts With an Innovative New Airbag
In the wake of the Takata airbag recalls, which hit nearly every auto maker, it was clear that the industry needed to have more control over how airbags deploy and how they impact passengers.
So Honda engineers got to work devising new deployment systems, studying what happens to passengers in a crash, understanding the effects of the crash and of a properly performing airbag to see how they could improve results.
What they found is that crashes rarely happen in real life the way they do in a lab; lab tests generally are straight-ahead crashes, while in real life cars, passengers and objects are often at an angle. Think of the crash that happens when people in a car turn to talk to each other, or the driver is leaning to one side for visibility, or two vehicles try to avoid each other but are unsuccessful, hitting at an angle.
Honda’s safety engineers also found that often a crash impact can push a passenger’s head into the side pillar of the car or toward the center and the passenger in the right seat, neither with good outcomes. These instances can cause spinal injury and and brain strain caused by the rotational velocity of the impact.
An Innovative Design That Will Soon Be the Industry Standard
Hondas engineers got to work creating and testing new airbag designs in its research lab where they conduct 2,400 crash tests a year. They came up with an airbag design that essentially surrounds and cradles the heads of front seat occupants in a crash.
Partnering with Autoliv to produce these front seat passenger airbags, Honda will install them in all new cars starting in 2020. But the partnership with Autoliv benefits the entire industry.
By 2021 Autoliv can sell the airbag to all automakers. If you think safety technology should not have patent protection, you’re not alone. Honda thinks so, too, so this is an open patent that in a year, anyone can use.
Addressing Safety for People Outside the Car, Too
For Honda, zero collisions also means protecting pedestrians, pets and property as well as drivers and passengers.
The company has invested in extensive technology designed to reduce injuries to pedestrians and technology to prevent its cars from hitting pedestrians by stopping automatically when a pedestrian crosses in front of a moving car. This technology will be in 100% of Honda’s vehicles by 2022.
Disarming Distracted Drivers and Anticipating Unpredictable Pedestrians
Honda is also studying ways to arm drivers with better information and to help them be less distracted. Honda is testing “Smart Intersections” in its North American hometown of Marysville, Ohio. These intersections feature cameras that monitor traffic and pedestrians, then digitize that information and broadcast it to drivers in the area. The result is that drivers can see when a light is about to change, when a pedestrian is about to step into the street or when obstacles pop up. And, emergency responders can see this too; the data is fed to local authorities so when emergency response is needed it’s faster and hopefully, more effective.
And at the Ohio State University, Honda has helped to create a driver distraction lab. Using simulators they can test out new infotainment systems and other technology to see how drivers react, they can test cameras and sensors to monitor drowsiness, and they can anticipate how safely drivers will adapt to new technology.
A Future of Safer Roads and More Burritos
The law of unintended consequences is a tough one, especially in a car crash. Thankfully Joni survived—and you can hear why she survived here; it has something to do with a burrito. And with safer roads, and zero collisions, we’ll all have time for more laughter. And more burritos.