The many benefits and few slight catches over ADAS featuring in increasing numbers of car and commercial fleets

We’re as delighted as most organisations to have witnessed the proliferation of advanced driver assistance systems – or ADAS – over the last few years, contributing heavily to making our roads safer until fully autonomous vehicles and their prerequisite infrastructure arrive.

New ADAS technologies are emerging all the time but core functionalities include adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, pre-crash collision mitigation, driver alertness monitoring, forward collision warnings, lane departure and lane change assist, and pedestrian detection systems. Even this list we’ve rattled off merely skims over around a third of primary ADAS applications1.

In December 2016, over 10% of new vehicles were said to be being fitted with ADAS, a figure which is expected to rise to at least 40% in just the next few years2. On its own, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) has been cited as reducing real-world crashes by 38%, which is not to be sniffed at3.

As well as helping bring about significant road safety improvements, the surge in ADAS development is naturally resulting in booming business for many automotive organisations, from Bosch who told Reuters that sales of its radar systems has leapt 60% in the year to date4, to the rapid growth of companies offering ADAS calibration services.

Vehicle fleets, particularly larger ones, aren’t always able to react and adapt quickly to industry changes, many of them tied in to two, three or four-year contract hire leases. An Autoglass survey5 of 250 British fleet managers identified that 27% admit to a lack of awareness over how ADAS works despite various safety systems being fitted to 34% of fleet cars and vans.

One fifth of the fleet managers consulted revealed that ADAS calibration isn’t included in their vehicles’ scheduled checks and maintenance routines. This echoes the concerns of Trak Labs’ MD Andrew Brown-Allan when writing for BusinessCar magazine last autumn6. He described how some drivers are becoming increasingly reliant on ADAS systems which in some cases may not even be working, compromising their safety against a backdrop of poor basic driving skills.

Recalibration of ADAS is important because, for example, an un-calibrated replacement windscreen could fail to warn drivers of potential road hazards in a timely manner. Even just a tiny inaccuracy in the position of a windscreen camera can significantly impair the effectiveness of one or more ADAS systems. As of summer 2016, Thatcham Research reported7 that the cost of ADAS recalibration was typically being footed by insurers because they appreciate how critical an investment in such a routine task is in enhancing driver safety. Averaging around £300 each time, the reducing cost of ADAS calibration equipment will steadily see prices fall, and a code of practice8 has reassuringly been published.

Figures recently9 released by the ABI show that average vehicle repair costs have risen sharply by 32% over the last three years, totting up to £1,678 on average. Thatcham’s CTO, Andrew Miller, cited ADAS as a major contributor to this tangible increase that is invariably resulting in some fleets feeling squeezed.

“Cars are only getting more complex and the repair of sensors, cameras and automated vehicles will mean this problem will continue to grow”, Mr Miller commented, and his sentiments are backed up by the ACFO’s John Pryor: “We have heard of vehicles that are off the road for longer due to the availability and complexity of parts.” With, for example, multiple types of windscreen and a wide range of ADAS sensors, it’s no surprise that this clever and ultimately very beneficial technology is causing headaches for some repair shops, along with downtime for fleets.

To address these concerns, a working group has been set up by Thatcham with a key aim being to secure industry-wide agreement on the lowering of parts and repair prices. Some insurers are now rewarding fleets with reduced premiums for AEB-fitted vehicles. Increased education is needed to enable fleet managers to fully understand the many positives and handful of negatives surrounding ADAS, along with the financial and temporal implications. Swifter and more thorough ADAS training for vehicle technicians will also contribute to helping such systems find a much more comfortable place in the fleet world.

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