Ghost bikes are chilling and sad, but do they change the way drivers act toward cyclists? Education campaigns about sharing the road are important, but do they work? There are vast opportunities to improve the relationship between drivers and cyclists, but in the meantime are least two companies are developing a more pragmatic solution: external airbags that inflate when a cyclist or pedestrian is struck by a car.
In the Netherlands, 200 cyclists and 70-some pedestrians are killed every year by automobiles and trucks, comprising a third of all traffic fatalities, with another 18,000 injured. There, a company called TNO has spent two years developing a system of airbags that inflate and cover the lower windshield when the car strikes an object. The project was seeded with one million Euros by the Dutch government and late last year released its first demonstration of a working model.
TNO’s system use a small camera mounted underneath the rearview mirror to analyze objects on the road ahead. If it senses a possible collision, it activates itself to an “alert” mode; if the car strikes something, sensors in the bumper trigger the airbag to cover the lower windshield and pillars. And although not included in the demonstration system, the TNO can be programmed to brake automatically, too.
Cool? Yes, but the Volve V40 already has just such a safety system in place (see video, below). It also includes an automatic braking system if it detects a ped walking in front of the car. Unfortunately, Volvo has no plans to import it to the States.