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A national trial of semi-autonomous vehicles for law enforcement teams has been taking place in Australia. The new car, capable of steering itself and automatically braking in an emergency, is a Mercedes E43 AMG. Its ability to read the road, monitor driver fatigue — and avoid collisions with cars and pedestrians — will be the focus of police, so they can be brought up to speed on advancements in autonomous technology.
The $160,000 vehicle has been donated to Victoria Police for 12 months to be used as an operational highway patrol vehicle across the state – but other states will also get a chance to sample future semi-autonomous tech in the coming months.
The E43 AMG can sprint to 100km/h in a Porsche-like 4.6 seconds.
The Mercedes can steer itself on a freeway for up to 60 seconds by “reading” lane markings,
can overtake automatically at the press of a button (sensors detect when there are no cars in an adjacent lane), and slam on the brakes below 70km/h to avoid hitting the vehicle in front.
It will help steer around a pedestrian if the driver hasn’t swerved fast enough, and advanced steering sensors detect if the driver is getting drowsy.
The technology is a stepping stone to fully autonomous vehicles, which the car industry says could be on our roads by 2020.
Despite the increasing prevalence of driver assistance systems in modern cars, the driver must always be in control, say police.
“As vehicles become more advanced and with better safety features, there are some (people) in the community that have been somewhat complacent in their driving,” said Victoria Police’s Assistant Commissioner Doug Fryer, from the road policing command.
“No matter what the vehicle looks like and what safety features are in it, the best and ironically the worst safety feature in every vehicle is the driver themselves. There is still a need to actually drive the vehicle and pay full attention.”
Police also want to encourage younger drivers to consider safer second-hand cars that fit within their budget. “We know … three out of four deaths on country roads happen in cars that are older than 10 years,” said Assistant Commissioner Fryer.
“If you have a choice between shiny wheels or advanced safety features … you should go for safety first.”