Honda's three-pronged approach
“Welcome back to the Philippines, Jamjam”.
Those were the stressful thoughts in my head as I abruptly stepped on the brakes to avoid a speeding motorist as soon as I got out of the Park n' Fly parking building going home.
Visiting Japan gave me an eye-opener as to how far our country is in terms of traffic, pedestrian safety, driver education, and most of all discipline.
For some who have already gone to the Land of the Rising Sun, it might sound like stating the obvious. But really, it's only when you get firsthand experience that you'll truly realize the gravity of it. If I had any words for my most recent trip, refreshing would be the best term to describe what it was like in Japan as a pedestrian and as a motorist.
Unlike here, the overtaking lanes of their expressways are the least crowded. In Tokyo where everything needs to be on the dot, motorists don't mind stopping for a good 20 seconds on an intersection to let pedestrians pass through. You'll barely hear angry car horn sounds, either. And when you're the pedestrian, you have the peace of mind to take a quick look at Google Maps while crossing the streets without ever worrying about getting hit by a motorcycle. It's in that part of the globe where there seems to be a very low population of “kamote drivers”.
Based on those things alone, Japan would definitely have a much shorter list of road safety improvements to have especially when compared to a country like ours. But really, it's in Japan where companies like Honda are working hard and investing their assets to find more solutions in making much safer roads.
We found that out when Honda took us on a trip to their R&D Proving Grounds in Tochigi. It was a little over a 2-hour bus ride away from Tokyo, and around 45 minutes from the famous Twin Ring circuit that's now known as Mobility Resort Motegi.
The tour was composed of three aspects: classroom-style discussions, product demonstrations, and a test drive to fully understand Honda's solutions for reaching its goal of zero traffic collision fatalities by 2050. And by the end of the day, I have learned Honda is likewise taking a three-pronged approach to achieve that goal – Machine, Man, and Regulations.
In terms of the machine, their main highlight was Honda Sensing which many of us are now familiar with. It's the brand's comprehensive suite of advanced driving assist systems and recently, HCPI has made Honda Sensing reach a broader range of customers by offering it as standard in the new City. Based on our drives and reviews with Honda Sensing-equipped vehicles, it's a system you can trust with the way it performs in real-life settings. But somehow Honda is not yet done in improving and refining the system.
They showed us an improved version called the Honda Sensing Elite, which offers up to level 3 of autonomous driving. Quite simply, the system has reached the point where you can safely take your hands off the wheel in specific driving conditions, like in a traffic jam and during overtaking.
As for collision avoidance, we rode with the N-Box kei van as we experienced Honda's Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), which now has the ability to detect incoming cars and motorcycles even when you're turning at a traffic intersection. We've all seen too many social media videos of motorists being blindsided by those speeding on a traffic crossing, and Honda's improved CMBS could significantly reduce those instances.
Apart from Honda Sensing, they also demonstrated their AI-based system that connects with local traffic cameras and other connected vehicles to communicate real-time traffic information. It even predicts the movement of pedestrians and vehicles that could potentially cause traffic hazards on your way. If you're a fan of the Fast and Furious franchise, their AI-based system is as close as it gets to God's Eye.
Speaking of communication, Honda is not just focused on feeding information through your ears, but more importantly, their systems are being developed to engage other senses, such as the sense of touch and sight.
We rode the Honda e prototype that basically had its own version of a smartwatch integrated into the steering wheel. It monitors your heart rate, the firmness of your grip on the steering wheel, and even detects your eye movements. All of these are being done by Honda to predict your sense of awareness and focus while driving, so the car can react in case of momentary lapses.
In another part of the tour, the Honda e was used as a prototype that relays enhanced visual recognition between the driver, pedestrians, and other motorists. They did it through the use of advanced LED lighting systems.
Much like a pedestrian crossing, the LED lights show a particular color when the driver has seen the pedestrian, and in turn, the pedestrian can see he has been detected by the car through the pixel LED pattern that mimics a flashing light.
At the back of the Honda e prototype, they have doubled the number of reflectors and placed two more at the leading edges of the car's rear spoiler. They say this helps improve visual recognition by almost 50%.
Along with these solutions, Honda is putting efforts to educate drivers through their safety driving centers, and study driver behavior in different traffic conditions using simulators.
According to Honda, there's still quite a long way to go for these road safety improvements to come to fruition, as they are still working with things such as government and transport regulations, as well as local traffic laws to reach end-user phases. But the key takeaway here is that Honda already has these concrete solutions at hand, and I'm sure there are plenty more to come in the future.
One can only remain hopeful that the Philippines could put in these kinds of efforts towards improving road safety in the same way Japan's carmakers, the government, and its people do with theirs. Including the konbinis.