Today, on the way home from grocery shopping, my BMW 335i’s forward collision warning system prevented an accident — and may have saved Tricia’s and my life.
We were traveling east on Route 9 in Westborough. We were in the right lane and had stopped for the light at Lyman St. Once the light changed to green, we were about to pass the Shell station you can see in the nearby Google Street View when, suddenly, a woman in the middle lane in a black Cadillac CTS must have decided it was time to fill up — right now. Without so much as looking — much less signalling — she swooped in front of us to pull into the gas station.
My 335i has a color head-up display which popped up the red icon you see nearby accompanied by a loud warning tone. But this was simply telling me what I already knew — a collision was about to happen. There was no room to avoid the impending crash on either the left or the right. To avoid the accident, the only option was instantaneous, massive braking that could stop the car in my lane short of where this bozo had decided she was going to go.
BMW’s are known for having good brakes (and this car is running on sticky performance tires). So, you’d expect the car to be able to stop in a short distance. But the issue wasn’t braking prowess, it was time — and there wasn’t any. This nutcase had cut me off too close for unassisted human reaction times to respond.
And that’s how the collision warning system — by priming the brakes and applying maximum available braking the instant the brake pedal was pressed — saved us from a collision. Computers are faster than humans. I had barely touched the brake pedal when the car stopped dead about a foot from where the Cadillac was still turning into the gas station. The seat belt pre-tensioners locked us in place and the only after effect was that the hummus we’d bought got splashed onto the sides of the container from the deceleration forces. That car stopped dead in a fraction of the time it would have taken me to bring it to a stop. (Fortunately, there were no cars behind me.)
It was if Thor himself had grabbed the wheels of this car to stop it. There was no collision and no damage to my BMW. I might have to wash off some extra brake dust, is all.
The tires on today’s advanced vehicles are really just there to keep the computers from scraping the ground. I’ve been an early adopter of highly digital cars and despite the neo-Luddites who complain about the lack of dipsticks in BMW engines and run-flat tires, I think these cars are the balls.
What I wish would happen is that the inevitable “trickle down” of these advanced safety systems would accelerate. They just make people into better, safer drivers. (Though not smarter drivers, as the airhead in the Caddy proves.) The BMW collision warning system cost thousands as an option on my already much-too-expensive 335i. (Clearly, it was worth it.) But we’d all be safer if NTHSA forced the auto industry to install systems like forward collision warning and EBD in every new car, starting now.