Safer in an Instant: Why Even a Half-Second Can Make All the Difference

Half a second. For most of us, most of the time, it’s no more significant than the blink of an eye. Not worth, well, a second thought. 

But perhaps we should all be paying more attention to the potential importance of such a fleeting moment. Because every time we take to the road, there’s a chance that a half-second could be a matter of life or death

For compelling evidence, look no further than the fundamental shift that has taken place over the past two decades in our approach to embedding safety into automotive designs. During that period, the focus of companies such as Aptiv has evolved from seeking to minimize the potential consequences of an accident to stopping them from happening in the first place. 

Recent trends in road casualties go a long way to explaining the change. From the 1950s right through to the early 1990s, the U.S. enjoyed a steady decline in the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by road traffic accidents. One of the key factors behind this was the development and deployment of what are broadly referred to as passive safety systems, such as seat belts, air bags and crumple zones. 

However, towards the end of the last century, this welcome downward curve started to plateau. That’s because, to a large extent, we had realized most of the gains possible through passive safety. To regain momentum, a new strategy was needed. It came in the form of active safety. In other words, addressing the cause of the disease rather than just treating the symptoms. 

And this is where the true value of that half-second lies. One way or another, most accidents are the result of human error. We get distracted. We make mistakes. Unfortunately, some are tragic. However, with active safety systems such as autonomous emergency braking, blind spot warning and lane assist, we can help compensate for human error. We can enhance the driver’s perception and awareness of potential danger, by issuing audible or visible warnings. Increasingly, we can even ensure that a vehicle will automatically take the corrective action necessary to avoid a crash. 

In situations where active safety intervenes, a half-second matters. Travelling at around 70 mph or 110 km/h, a half-second is the time it takes to cover around three car lengths. Clearly, stopping that much sooner will sometimes mean avoiding a collision. In fact, quite a lot of the time. Just consider this. It’s estimated an extra half-second of warning cuts the risk of an accident by 60 percent.

Now that’s a goal worth fighting for. It’s why, over the past 25 years, we’ve been committed to the development of world-class active safety systems. Today, there is much talk of how these technologies provide the basis for tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles. But we should also celebrate the fact that they are increasingly common now, in mainstream models, on public highways. As a result, we can look forward to a future characterized by further significant improvements in road casualty figures. A future in which more and more lives are being saved in the blink of an eye.