By on February 21, 2018

2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Thanks to a pact among the world’s largest automakers, automated emergency braking will soon be standard kit on nearly every new vehicle, paving the way for a future of collision-free bliss. That’s the plan, anyway. While undoubtedly a valuable addition to the automotive landscape, self-thinking vehicle safety systems sometimes reveal their dark side.

That’s what happened Wednesday during the Abu Dhabi Tour — a big-deal cycling race in a locale where hydration no doubt takes on new importance. Fluids weren’t top of mind for five of the cyclists, however, as their race was cut short by a Mercedes-Benz with a mind of its own.

According to Cycling News, a resource we couldn’t do without, the incident occured after the lead car — a Mercedes-Benz E-Class — braked suddenly as a pack of cyclists rode just aft of its rear bumper. In the ensuing jam, five riders took a spill.

“I didn’t see it happen, but there was word going around that a lot of the cars have the automatic braking system, and if they don’t disengage that, then as soon as a bike rider comes close, it brakes,” Dimension Data team member Mark Renshaw said. Another team member, Mark Cavendish, was forced to abandon the race due to whiplash and a concussion.

Flanking the Benz at the time were two motorcycles, though those vehicles rode in separate lanes. Ahead of the car was open road; nothing to trigger forward-facing collision-avoidance sensors. So, what safety system slows a car when approached from the year? In an E-Class, blame Pre-Safe Plus. The system applies the vehicle’s brakes when it senses an impending collision from a vehicle approaching from the rear. As the Benz was travelling at speed, it mistook the cyclists on its rear bumper as an imminent threat. (The brake application aims to prevent the car from travelling into further danger following a collision.)

While the incident didn’t stop the race, RCS Sport race director Stefano Allocchio was forced to reassure riders that the marauding German cars would be neutered. Allocchio confirmed the braking story while promising a safer route in the days ahead. This should prove reassuring, as the Abu Dhabi Tour is a five-day stage race apparently milling with self-aware Benz sedans.

“The car braked by itself,” Allocchio explained. “Unfortunately, these are things that happen. This evening, we’ll have a technician deactivate it on the all the cars because we don’t want to risk it happening again.”

[Image: Daimler AG]

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44 Comments on “Cycling Pileup Shows the Unexpected Dangers of Vehicle Safety Aids...”


  • avatar
    Wacko

    So the car Brake checks on it’s own.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      Seriously who is in fault in that case?

      There’s no way you can blame the DRIVER of a car that automatically brake checks someone else can you?

      If you brake check someone and they hit you, the brake-checker is liable.

      self-driving vehicles always put the responsibility on the DRIVER, but I think its pretty hard to do that in this situation.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I blame Mercedes-Benz.

        If you’re about to be rear-ended, the one way to absolutely positively ensure it happens is to slam on brakes. With nothing in front of the car, there was no reason for it.

        How was it supposed to prevent a collision? Because the driver behind you was supposed to be thinking “I’m gonna hit that Benz, haha…oh wait, he’s stoping, so abort!”

        • 0 avatar
          anomaly149

          Re: why they do it, the article states it right there.

          “The [automatic] brake application aims to prevent the car from travelling into further danger following a collision.”

          i.e. getting smacked at a stoplight is less likely to send you across 12 lanes of traffic.

          • 0 avatar
            ACCvsBig10

            when my buddy got rear ended at stop light he was able to use the momemtum to swerve to left avoid the car directly in front of him. if the brakes were locked he would hit the car right in front him causing a 3 car accident instead of 2.

          • 0 avatar
            N8iveVA

            “Re: why they do it, the article states it right there.”

            “The [automatic] brake application aims to prevent the car from travelling into further danger following a collision.”

            “i.e. getting smacked at a stoplight is less likely to send you across 12 lanes of traffic.”

            anomoly149: No that’s post collision. How does applying the breaks pre-collision in a potential rear collision situation improve things when there is no one in front of the vehicle?

      • 0 avatar
        MrIcky

        In America the brake checker usually isn’t liable to the car behind him unless there is extenuating circumstances because you’re supposed to leave ample room for the vehicle in front of you to stop for an emergency.

        Vs a cyclist the rules are fuzzy, in some states the cyclist has to follow the rules of the road. In some states they get treated more like pedestrians and basically have enhanced rights.

        In this case, in America, it would probably be a) a product liability case, b) a case against race organizers for negligently controlling traffic, and c) the driver would be named even though he probably has defenses.

        Abu Dhabi is the wild west for driving and liability rules though, so who knows how they’ll deal with it. Probably everyone will get a giant fine and the police will get a new gyrocopter to monitor future bike races.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          MrIcky,
          Driving in Abu Dhabi isn’t that bad, I just spent over 6 months there.

          It has incredible road infrastructure and the drivers have become much better, in all honesty not much worse than any major city in the US.

          It is also quite heavily policed. I know of a number of guys who got pipped for speeding.

          A guy from work was driving on one of the freeways at 75kph and a cop pulled alongside of him and indicated he needed to speed up.

      • 0 avatar
        toxicroach

        As the rear driver it’s your job not to hit hte car in front of you, so don’t tailgate them and the problem is solved.

        As to why this feature exists I have no idea.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        If I choose to drive around in a car stuffed to the gills with highly sensitive nitroglyserin, it’s my darned fault if it blows up and mauls people. Ditto for owning dogs that may maul people. As well as autonomous guns that may decide to shoot up a crowd on their own.

        Just don’t buy cars that may brake check people. Don’t buy cars that do stuff you don’t want to be responsible for, and/or don’t fully understand the implications of.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I for one, welcome our robotic overlords.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    Isn’t it illegal (UCF) to be close enough to the lead car to catch draft anyways?

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      I haven’t looked up the exact circumstances, but here’s what I think happened.

      Typically these pro road bike races start with what they call a neutral start. Led by the race official’s car, they leave the start line in a leisurely manner and travel several kilometere relatively slowly. At some point the official waves a flag from the car, it speeds ahead and the cyclists then start racing.

      During this neutral period the cyclists are not allowed to get ahead of the official’s car, but they cluster closely beside and behind it. I can see how one of these systems would have no idea what was going on. Too bad Cavendish had to drop out because of it.

      • 0 avatar
        ect

        I’m not sre where the senors are for this system, but is there a chance that one or more cyclists pulled up alongside and very close to (or approaching) the car, thereby triggering the braking system?

        One way or another, I strongly suspect that the law of unintended consequences struck again.

      • 0 avatar

        So, there’s video at the Cycling News link, and yeah, you’re quite right: it happened in the neutralized start. It’s possible the Merc saw the motorcycles just ahead of it and auto-braked to “avoid” them.

        Some background: I’ve done support driving in lesser bike races, and there’s a bunch of elements of the what those vehicles do are utterly incompatible with stuff like auto-braking systems, lane-watch systems, or really any auto-drive system. That’s not really an indictment of autonomous systems, it’s more that the rules of driving in a bike race caravan are different from the rules of the road.

        The situation shown in the video is completely normal, right up until the car brake-checks the riders. During the neutral start (basically a long rolling start, it can be some kilometers long before the proper race start), the riders will ride in a tight pack close behind the lead car, at a sub-race pace (would still be 30+ km/h, which nose-breathing pace for these riders), waiting for the race start. When the race is ready to start, the lead car (actually a commissaire’s (referee’s) car; the “lead” vehicle is even further up the road, with the sole job of warning everybody that the bike race is coming) pulls well ahead.

        There are a bunch of other vehicles in the caravan doing various roles, and the proper procedures would typically give fits to the usual sorts of driver’s aids, outside of traction/stability control.

        • 0 avatar

          One more thing: Mark Cavendish isn’t just some random rider. He’s one of the top stars in cycling, and a past world champion. (He’s a sprinter, so not the kind of guy who is going to win the Tour de France, but he has won many individual stages of that race, the sprinter’s jersey (the second most important prize in the Tour), and many many prestigious one-day races.

          It’s a real black eye to have him knocked out of a race (and probably more than just this race) due to a stupid crash.

        • 0 avatar
          brandloyalty

          Excellent point that the motor vehicles involved in cycling road races do all sorts of things that will be problematic for driver assistance systems.

          Just as an aside, I think the carbon impact of the support caravan should be reduced by using Teslas.

          • 0 avatar

            So like I said, I’ve done some bike race support driving, and am tightly involved with the group that does it in my part of the world.

            Teslas have been used for criterium races around here, and they are FANTASTIC. The performance parameters from 0-60 km/h in a more-open-than-autocross environment are excellent, especially the throttle response. On a tight course, the only thing that is similarly good is a Mini.

            Bad: we used Prius C’s for one race, even in “B” mode they are just barely adequate for purpose. it was fun but a bit scary.

            My avatar photo is me driving a Subaru XV in another race; it was fine.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    “we’ll have a technician deactivate it on the all the cars because we don’t want to risk it happening again”

    “deactivate it on the all the cars”

    Solution

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    More than once, I have avoided getting rear ended by getting OFF the brakes. I don’t mind safety systems that do what I would have done better than I could do it myself. Ones that do the opposite are unsafety systems. Adaptive cruise control is another example of the latter.

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      Same here. When it happened to me, I slammed the car into gear and got third instead of first, but I was able to move the car forward enough to avoid being hit in the rear.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      Kendahl, adaptive cruise control is one of those things I really wish I had for years now. Care to elaborate why it poses problems? I am curious to learn more about this.

  • avatar
    22_RE_Speedwagon

    I’m sure somewhere there’s some solid statistical evidence to support trying to minimize a potential front collision by making an impending rear collision worse, but yeah, no thanks.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I’m surprised no one did a risk assessment of the vehicles and the race.

    Were I work any sporting activity must be risk assessed, it’s a pain, but it does offered legal protection to all involved and reduces the chance of injury or mishaps.

    This would of most likely been identified if a thorough risk assessment was carried out.

    • 0 avatar
      ernest

      +1

      Although I’m going to use that phrase “over-engineered” again. The words “high tech” and “European” should never appear in the same sentence together.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    Classic cars are becoming more appealing each day; none of these annoying safety and automated driving features.

    I enjoy driving. And I am not an idiot. I don’t need these safety features because I an alert driver who is aware of what is happening around him at all times. Just ask my insurance! I have been driving accident-free for over 20 years!

    Alas, carmakers think we need these features because… most people are bad drivers?

    • 0 avatar
      turbo_awd

      Alas, carmakers think we need these features because… most people are bad drivers?

      Actually, if you ask them, most people are above-average drivers :-) The problem is they’re all busy texting.

      • 0 avatar
        ThomasSchiffer

        Yes, texting or talking on the phone while driving is a serious issue. Here it is thankfully severely punished by the police – heavy fines plus an eventual driving ban for a certain amount of time.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      I’m pretty sure everyone thinks they are above average drivers, to include everyone on this forum.

      The problem is that I am surrounded by stupidity every time I drive. Systems helping other drivers, only helps me in the end.

  • avatar
    brn

    Bikers were at fault. Following too close.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      In a bike race, you may be right. In urban surface traffic littered with this kind of cars, your solution amounts to riding waaay behind, and in the middle of the road, to prevent any car from passing and cutting into into the buffer you are maintaining. Or, in the US, talk to your ambulance chaser, then hope you get brakechecked by a deep pocketed automaker, in a locale where the drones are told bicycling is hip….

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    It would be interesting to learn the logic of the M-B engineers who decided that the appropriate response to a vehicle rapidly closing from the rear is to apply the brakes. It would seem that the better strategy is to either accelerate or do nothing until impact and then apply the brakes hard immediately afterwards.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    “It’s for our own good” – any given Snowflake

  • avatar
    trflucker3388

    Electronic nanny controls…soon to be standard across most automakers likely with no choice for the consumer who truly doesn’t need it…and it will likely be illegal to disable the function …even if for your individual driving habits NOT having the function operational would likely make you safer ..sigh the future of automotive engineering and manufacturing is here

    The only vehicles I think should have autonomous braking are highway tractor trailers , coach buses & heavy equipment to protect smaller vehicles from becoming roadkill when some overworked driver falls asleep at the wheel. Otherwise how about making proper drivers education mandatory for everyone at their own expense and then for anyone else who demonstrates that they lack driving skill even after that, they must have the electro-Nanny permanently enabled on their vehicle and have that vehicle marked with a warning tag indicating to all other drivers around them that they suck at driving and have the software safety suite making their car an AI -equipped road hazard.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    What if an emergency vehicle is closing fast and you don’t notice it in time? Ideally, you’d see/hear an ambulance and attempt or get out of the way in a safe manner. If your Nanny Pod LTZ (w/ pod appearance group) lays on the binders, a life and death situation could end up looking like a Three Stooges skit.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    I’ve wrote about this before, that darned Lane Assist in a new C-Class almost made me mow down an unsuspecting cyclist by slamming the RF brake on when I tried to pass him. The smug salesman even had the nerve to tell me that I need to indicate before changing lanes, that way the system knows I do it intentionally.
    Mercedes is a menace to cyclists.

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    Wonder how it would react to lane-splitting motorcyclists in CA? If it starts braking when a motorcycle swerves behind it for 1 second.. I don’t even want to think about it..

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Assuming these systems aren’t all deactivated on cars sold in Asian and Mediterranean cities, they have to be able to cope in one way or the other. Scooterists will cut around cars, sometimes literally stepping on their front bumpers, in those places. Ditto cyclists all over Europe.

      Volvo needs to add a big airbag to the rear exterior of any car equipped with such a system, that’s for sure. Or maybe Mercedes themselves, who supposedly was the “real inventor” of all the safety tech Volvo is famous for….


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