In response to several tragic road accidents, Japan’s automakers are upgrading their safety technologies.
In September, Nissan Motor Co. released a premium version of the Skyline sports sedan equipped with a driver assistance system that enables hands-off driving on expressways while cruising in a single lane.
The system is “much more reliable than your driving,” Asako Hoshino, executive vice president of Nissan, said as she unveiled the model to reporters.
First, the driver sets the destination in the navigation system, creating a predetermined route, according to Nissan.
Although the driver needs to watch conditions around the vehicle, the system allows the car to travel the route at a preset speed until reaching the predetermined expressway exit, thereby freeing the driver from having to use the accelerator or brakes.
When passing, the system judges the appropriate time for switching lanes. The driver is then prompted to put both hands on the wheel and confirm the start of the passing maneuver with a switch.
The system is designed for “stress-free driving,” using data accumulated from skilled drivers, said a Nissan engineer involved in its development. It is expected to reduce fatigue on long trips.
It also has an infrared monitoring camera in the cabin to continuously confirm the driver is concentrating instead of nodding off. If the driver fails to respond to an alert, the system turns on the hazard lights and reduces speed until the vehicle comes to a halt.
The new Skyline “is packed with safety technologies,” Hoshino said.
New vehicles are increasingly being sold with automatic decelerators that activate when the accelerator is mistakenly used instead of the brakes. But they account for less than 10 percent of all cars sold in Japan each year, and many older ones don’t have such safety devices.
Akio Toyoda, chairman of Toyota Motor Corp. and head of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, is pushing the use of such devices in existing cars.
Toyota and subsidiary Daihatsu Motor Co. have released safety devices for existing vehicles to prevent such pedal mishaps.
In a related development, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry in July called on eight carmakers to take similar measures.
A device released by Daihatsu last year puts sensors on the front and rear of a vehicle to detect obstacles. If the driver hits the gas more strongly than necessary, it shows a warning sign on a display mounted near the speedometer and curbs acceleration.
Daihatsu is selling it for around ¥30,000, which Daihatsu President Soichiro Okudaira claimed was “affordable to many people.”
Honda Motor Co. and others are developing similar devices for next summer or later.
Other governments are starting to encourage the trend. In July, for example, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government launched a subsidy program to cover up to 90 percent of the cost if drivers 70 or older install devices that prevent them from accidentally using the gas pedal. The Hyogo and Tokushima prefectural governments are looking at similar financial aid programs.