Cycling Pileup Shows the Unexpected Dangers of Vehicle Safety Aids

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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