Isn’t it ironic? The car that, in part, owes its fame for almost crushing a presenter today leads the way in road safety.
Autonomous emergency brakes now found on the once low-flying Golf are almost halving accident claims. Both it and the Passat have the sensory braking system, along with adaptive cruise control.
It’s these attributes that Thatcham Research believes is behind the respective models involvement in 45% less accident claims in their control group than similar makes and models.
VW Golf: still setting precedents after 35 years
Back in 1979, the VW Golf Mk I TV advertising campaign caused a marketing storm. Out of nowhere, a red model dropped from above the camera shot and landed next to the commercial’s presenter. It was ground-breaking at the time (but I guess you had to be there ☺).
The effect was used to demonstrate the car’s suspension and sound structure. It proved a savvy move by VW’s German owners, who’d moved manufacture to Japan. Motors like the Nissan and Datsun previously exported from Japan were synonymous with rusting bodywork.
The advert worked like a charm. In it, a red Golf Mk I dropped into the shot, hit the floor and then bounced just a little, like an Olympic gymnast steadying their balance on landing off the vault.
Then, the non-plussed presenter, whom the car had nearly squished, simply turned, walked to the driverside door, got in, started it up first time and drove that same car off the set. A legend was born.
Congestion relief + reduced claims = a brighter, sooner future
It looks like VW are about to set another precedent with their autonomous braking system, too. Insurance claims have almost halved involving cars that have the system fitted.
The results have surprised almost everyone. Previous predictions suggested the braking system would achieve a drop in claims by only half the amount it has in reality.
It’s not as if the test group for the Mk VI Golf wasn’t sizeable. Once the initial sample group exceeded initial expectations, it was doubled to make absolutely sure.
Thatcham’s Matthew Avery related that some 7,000 Golf’s, all insured and clocking up mileage for a full year, were used in total. Feedback from its membership of insurers supports the 45% reduction claim.
The system itself has double-monitoring capabilities, too. A sensor on the front of the VW monitors both speed and distance of the car in front. On the side of the vehicle, there are radars. These help detect motion, thus steering the vehicle clear of pedestrians and bicycles.
All of this data is then fed back to the driver’s console, which instigates “Adaptive Cruise Control”. So, yes, the driver is in control of the gearbox, but the car applies the brakes if anything comes too close either in front or from the side.
How close are we to driverless cars becoming a reality?
On top of this breakthrough, there’s also ongoing research into the impact driverless cars could have on congestion. The motor, safety and insurance industries are now all watching Google and others’ developments in this arena.
Before this technology was introduced mainstream in 2013, driverless cars remained very much in the sci-fi realm. Many manufacturers had built protoypes, of sorts going back as far as the 1920s.
But the JohnnyCabs of Total Recall fame are now very much on the commercial cards, thanks to companies like VW, Google and Uber. But without the sarcasm, one would hope.
The claims that congestion could be cut by 90% with the introduction of ‘taxibots’ are now being taken seriously.
Lisbon’s traffic, for example, has already been analysed using the most extreme set of data. If each taxibot carried only one person per single journey, congestion in the Portuguese capital would drop by more than three quarters.
Assuming that many journeys would accommodate more than one passenger, that figure could reduce even further.
As technology develops and thought processing (human and machine) accelerates, we reach new milestones quicker. Given the Golf’s remarkable results, there are calls for all cars to come with autonomous brakes.
If those calls are heeded, it would mean fewer injury claims. Plus insurance premiums would, as a consequence, lower across the board. At the speed we’re going, that could well happen sooner rather than later.