Toronto van attack: Could automatic brakes have helped prevent the tragedy?

Click to play video: 'Timeline of Toronto van attack'
Timeline of Toronto van attack
ABOVE: This graphic re-creation shows how the van attack unfolded down Yonge St. in north Toronto on Monday afternoon – Apr 24, 2018

In the wake of the Toronto van attack that killed 10 people and injured 14 others on Monday, many are left wondering how a tragedy like this can be prevented from happening again.

Some experts are turning their attention to enhanced vehicle technology, such as automatic braking systems. This involves sensors on a vehicle that can detect a crash, warn the driver and apply brakes if the person behind the wheel does not take action quickly enough.

READ MORE: What can other cities teach Toronto about protecting pedestrians?

This safety feature may have actually saved lives in the 2016 Berlin Christmas market truck attack, according to German authorities.

Twelve people were killed and at least 48 injured when the driver plowed through a crowd of people. But the number of victims could have been higher, were it not for the automatic brakes that were installed in the truck, investigators found.

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The system stopped the truck after about 80 metres, after detecting obstacles but no response from the driver. According to the report, it is possible for the driver to override the braking system; however, the technology was deployed during the attack.

WATCH: Automatic brakes installed in truck used in Berlin attack prevented more deaths

Click to play video: 'Automatic brakes installed in truck used in Berlin attack prevented more deaths: report'
Automatic brakes installed in truck used in Berlin attack prevented more deaths: report

“The technology saved lives,” a Berlin local government official told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

In 2012, the European Union adopted mandatory regulations requiring all new trucks exceeding 3,500 kilograms to be fitted with advanced emergency braking systems.

Could it have saved lives in Toronto attack?

As noted in the Berlin example, automatic breaks are starting to slowly be implemented in newer vehicles.

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“But it can be enabled or disabled. It’s an assistance or enhancement available to a driver — but it’s optional,” said Ross McKenzie, managing director of the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Automotive Research.

“Would it have prevented or helped contribute to lessen the severity of the tragedy earlier this week? Yes. But only if it [the automatic brake system] was turned on,” he explained.

Although this technology could have helped save lives, it still may be awhile before automatic brakes are fully implemented and accepted by consumers, McKenzie said.

“Technology on vehicles is generally introduced on higher-end vehicles first,” he said. “A lot of the vehicles that are available to rent are typically base model vehicles.”

Will it soon be mandatory?

Major car manufacturers who sell vehicles in the United States, such as Ford, Honda and General Motors, have agreed to install auto-braking systems by 2022. And Canada likely won’t be far behind.

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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the U.S., a group that helped reach the voluntary agreement with automakers, has said that as many as 20 per cent of crashes could be prevented by the technology.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has also called for making the technology mandatory in all vehicles.

But McKenzie said it still may take awhile to become a common feature in a vehicle.

“When anti-lock brakes first came out, people were reluctant because they have this funny pulsing sensation on their foot. I remember when they were launched how people sought out to buy vehicles without it as they were resistant to change,” he said.

“Now it’s a standard equipment and people take it for granted. Anti-lock brakes are a good thing.”

Automatic brakes may be on a parallel path, he said. But there could be more bumps on the road before automatic brakes become the norm.

There are more challenges to this technology, such as relying on sensors.

“Sensors can be obscured in rainstorms or can be covered over in winter driving conditions. What if they fail? We still have a lot of steps to take to make sure technology is reliable,” he added.

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WATCH: Could increased safety measures help prevent vehicle attacks?

Click to play video: 'Could increased safety measures help prevent vehicle attacks?'
Could increased safety measures help prevent vehicle attacks?


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