New app enables your smartphone to detect when you've been in a crash and automatically call for help.

Johannesburg - One of the most fascinating aspects of automotive development over the past two decades has been the rise in autonomous technology, of cars that do things for us, sonetimes without even being asked.

It started with cruise control, keeping the car rolling at a steady speed, accelerating  up hill and slowing down dale, followed by (if you’ll excuse the pun) adaptive cruise control, which maintains a safe distance to the car in front - even if that car slows to a stop in heavy traffic - and pre-safe, that can tell when you’re about to crash and braces for impact by tightening your seatbelt, and closing the sunroof and windows.

Airbags and antilock braking are now practically universal and, if you roll a convertible, explosive charges will extend the roll bars before the car can fall on you. And now there’s  crash detection technology, which automatically detects if you’ve been in a collision and alerts emergency services to come and help.

The latest BMW and Volvo models already have this technology and, from March 2018, all new cars sold in the EU will have to have a built-in crash detection ‘black box’. EU commissioners insist this will save 2500 lives a year by speeding up emergency services response times.

But what about older cars?

But, fascinating though it is, 'black box' technology won’t help the drivers of older cars - and the average age of the cars in developing countries is significantly higher than in Europe, which means that it will take many years before cars with built-in crash detection become commonplace on South African roads.

Yet South Africa is listed as one of the most dangerous countries in which to drive, said Casey Rousseau, marketing manager of 1st for Women Insurance; automatic accident detection could save a lot more lives.

“And one of the things almost every woman driver in South Africa has, no matter how old-school her car, is a smartphone,” he said. “So 1st for Women has now introduced an accident detection app called Guardian Angel on Call that doesn’t need a built-in or aftermarket ‘black box’ fitted to the car - it operates from the 1st for Women App downloaded onto your smartphone.”

Rate of change

The satellite navigation feature in your phone works by measuring the speed of your movement across the ground and, more importantly, the rate of change in that speed. Guardian Angel on Call switches itself on when your car accelerates away from a standing start and, if the car collides with something, it will detect the sudden drastic change in speed, gauge its severity by measuring the rate of change, and automatically notify the Guardian Angel call centre, telling them exactly where you are.

If the impact is beyond a certain level, it will also immediately alert medical responders, and send them personal medical information, such as medical conditions and allergies, so that paramedics can treat you more effectively.

And because it’s on your phone, not in your car, it works even when you’re a passenger in another car - so you can share it with up to five family members or significant others, and you know they’ll be looked after when they’re traveling with somebody else.

And when it's not that bad...

Fortunately, most crashes are not severe enough to trigger a Guardian Angel emergency message. Here’s Rousseau's checklist of what to do after a minor fender-bender that doesn’t require medical or emergency intervention:

Stop your car and switch on your hazard lights.

Take photos of all damage to the vehicles and/or property

Move the vehicles out of the road if possible, to avoid obstructing traffic.

Exchange information: Full names, ID numbers and contact details, vehicle registrations and descriptions, location and time of the accident, and the road and weather conditions.

Call your insurer to get an approved tow if your car isn’t driveable.

Report the crash to the police within 48 hours to get a case number - you’ll need it in order to submit an insurance claim.