Mercedes-Benz's Pre-Safe Plus Emergency Braking Causes Cycling Pileup

Abu Dhabi Tour 1 photo
Photo: YouTube screenshot
Anyone who's driven a car fitted with an automated emergency braking system for long enough has had this problem: there you were, driving casually, minding your own business, being completely in control when all of a sudden, lights start flashing, harsh beeping comes out of the speakers, and the vehicle brakes violently for no apparent reason.
It has happened to me on several occasions, particularly when navigating through a congested street where there's not that much clearance left and right, and the sensors think they know better and take over. Not only is it dangerous for anyone driving behind the car, but it's also very disturbing for everyone inside it.

It looks like this kind of technology is going to become standard on almost all new models shortly, and while it might do more good than harm, in my experience after almost three years of living with the damn thing, all it's done was to scare the hell out of me on several occasions.

It turns out I got away easy compared to what happened to Mike Cavendish and four more cyclists who were taking part in the Abu Dhabi Tour. They were riding behind the lead car through the neutralized zone on stage one of the tour when the Mercedes-Benz E-Class suddenly braked, leaving the five involved in the crash no time to react.

The footage shows there were two motorcycles flanking the Mercedes-Benz, but they weren't just to each of the vehicle's sides and not in front, but also quite a distance away. There was nothing but open road ahead of the E-Class, so why did it brake?

The answer lies in the way the Pre-Safe-Plus system works. It doesn't just mitigate frontal collisions, but also the ones happening from behind. When the sensors detect the imminence of getting rear-ended, the system applies the brakes to make sure the car won't ricochet into other objects after the crash.

As the cyclists wondered too close to the car, that's exactly what the Pre-Safe-Plus system misinterpreted, with disastrous results for Mike Cavendish. The British rider was able to recover and get back on his bike, but he soon had to abandon due to a mild concussion and whiplash.

"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," Mark Renshaw, one of Cavendish's Dimension Data teammates, told CyclingNews.

Undoubtedly, with only a human driver at the wheel and no additional active safety systems, this never would have happened. In normal driving conditions, though, they might prove a lot more useful - they just need a bit of fine-tuning.

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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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