Are Supply Chain Shortages Affecting Car Safety Technology?

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For any person going shopping, the supply shortage for many items has been more than transparent. Every industry, from food to automotive supplies, has experienced a shortage of certain items. Although many items have become readily available since the height of the pandemic, some items are still struggling to find their way back to consumers.

Among the many items that have remained scarce, semiconductor chips that help drive our modern world have been high in demand and short in production. Semiconductor chips are omnipresent. They operate computer electronic devices such as laptops, cell phones, computers, telecommunications, and 5G technology infrastructure, which drives cellular networks and automobiles.

The automotive industry has been the most affected by the shortage of semiconductor chips. Automobile manufacturers have reported that production has been reduced in some cases by as much as 40 percent because of the shortage.

What all this means for automobile consumers is that the very technology that has in recent years made cars safer to drive is in short supply, and that could affect a driver’s safety on the road and increase the possibility of a car accident and related personal injury. Therefore, it is worth looking at how the shortage of semiconductor chips affects the automobile industry and its consumers.

Why Are Semiconductors in Short Supply?

The shortage of semiconductor chips for automobiles began during the pandemic. With the shutdown of non-essential businesses, schools, and various public and private facilities, the world moved to a near-fully remote environment. That shift caused a high demand for technology found in the home, such as smartphones, laptops, and various electronic devices.

At the same time, demand for automobiles dropped. That caused a cutback in the production of semiconductor chips typically used in cars. Production of semiconductor chips used in home electronic devices, however, did not slow down. The manufacturers of semiconductor chips simply made home electronic semiconductor chips a priority.

The result is that in the past two years, automobile manufacturers, because of the shortage of semiconductor chips, have had to remove or lessen the amount of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and other safety features normally found in a modern automobile. Many manufacturers have been offering ADAS merely as an option.

What Are Semiconductors?

Made of thin layers of base material, such as gallium arsenide or silicon carbide substrate, semiconductors contain specific electrical properties that enable them to conduct electricity. Because semiconductors have properties that fall in between a conductor, a substance that can conduct electricity, and an insulator, a substance that cannot conduct electricity, they are the ideal medium to control electrical current and act as a foundation for electronic devices.

Why Are Semiconductors Important to Automobiles?

Semiconductor chips are used in the modern manufacturing of automobiles to operate ADAS and various other safety systems. These systems modernize automobiles in a way that saves lives. Semiconductor chips are used for airbag deployment, adaptive cruise control, increasing the efficiency of combustion in the engine, and GPS systems.

Most importantly, semiconductor chips enable ADAS to exist. Without these systems, the automobile takes a step backward in time. ADAS help drivers stay safe by providing them with assistance when needed. ADAS basically make cars semi-autonomous, sending off warning signals to the driver and, in certain cases, taking over the driving of the vehicle when danger presents itself.

Semiconductor chips are the driving force behind the artificial intelligence (AI) of ADAS. Semiconductor chips take in a vehicle’s environment using sensors, supplying ADAS with data that cause those systems to react. Sensors are also possible through automotive semiconductor technology. Mounted on the front, rear, and sides of cars, they convert light into electric signals. In essence, they are the eyes of ADAS.

To What Extent Do ADAS Make Cars Safer?

The extent to which ADAS make cars safer is found in the many different types of ADAS and their efficiency. Although most ADAS vary in how they operate, the common denominator is that ADAS help reduce automobile accidents by supplying a driver with a few more sets of eyes and the AI to decipher what those eyes see. This is all made possible through semiconductor chips.

One of the most important ADAS is the blind spot warning system. This system sends a visual or audio alert when a vehicle in an adjacent lane has made its way into your blind spot. This causes you to lose sight of the vehicle, creating a danger if you decide at that moment to move into the same lane as that vehicle.

Blind spots are a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents and happen ubiquitously each day. A blind spot monitoring system alerts you to give you a chance to react. If you do not react in time, the system will automatically brake or steer you back into your lane.

The forward collision warning system works to keep you safe from the car in front of you. This system monitors the speed of the car in front of you and your car as well. It also keeps track of the distance between both vehicles. If you are too close to the car ahead of you, the system lets you know that danger is near, giving you time to react. Some forward collision warning systems can provide braking in case you do not react in time.

There is also a rear collision warning system that works similar to the forward collision warning system. The rear collision system keeps an eye on the vehicles behind you. This system works sort of as an extension of a backup camera, which allows you to see behind you when you are backing up, except that unlike a backup camera, the rear collision system alerts you that you are too close to a car behind you.

A lane-centering assistance system utilizes a camera-based device that monitors your lane position. This system uses steering inputs to keep your car centered in the lane in which you are driving. It will automatically steer your car if you begin to drift off-center. It can also accelerate or brake one or more of your car’s wheels to help in the process.

An adaptive cruise control system maintains your desired speed while keeping a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. Whereas old versions of cruise control have no way of adjusting as you close in on the car ahead of you, adaptive cruise control systems, much like a forward collision warning system, can slow your car down or brake in order keep you safe.

A lane departure warning system monitors lane markers on the road. This system alerts you if you start to drift out of your lane or into the shoulder lane. This system, however, only gives an alert. Unlike a blind spot warning system, it will not steer your car for you.

A pedestrian automatic emergency braking system retrieves information from forward sensors. This system provides automatic braking if a pedestrian is too close to your vehicle.

Antilock brake systems (ABS) also use semiconductor chips. These systems have sensors in all four wheels that monitor your traction, speed, and steering. ABS are used as a part of other ADAS when automatic braking is needed.

Is There Any Research Showing that ADAS Make Cars Safer?

Most studies conducted offer some findings of ADAS helping drivers remain safe. A study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), for instance, found that a number of ADAS reduce crashes.

The IIHS study reported that forward collision warning systems and automatic braking systems combined reduced rear-end crashes by 50 percent. Another study from the IIHS found that pedestrian automatic emergency braking systems reduced pedestrian accidents by 27 percent.

According to a report by Forbes, a Consumer Reports analysis found that ADAS could reduce motor vehicle-related fatalities 50 percent if ADAS became standard on all new vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2020, there were almost 39,000 motor vehicle fatalities across the United States. Cutting those fatalities in half would amount to over 19,000 lives saved.


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