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Modern safety technology: Does it make drivers lazy?

Driving along in a new Mitsubishi Outlander Aspire, I was enjoying the sound quality of the Rockford Fosgate stereo as I sat in climate controlled comfort. Suddenly, the dash lit up with a panicked ‘Brake!’ and an accompanying beep. There was a turning vehicle several metres up ahead that I had already slowed for and was preparing to move around. The reality was that if I had to, I could have stopped comfortably within the space between the Outlander and the car ahead. For me, the Forward Collision Mitigation (FCM) system was a jumpy (and pre-emptive) distraction to something I had already seen…but I can’t talk for everyone, or indeed for every situation.

At advanced driver training courses, the first thing you are taught is to look far ahead so you can make such avoidance manoeuvres with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, this is not always related to those learning to drive, but that is a story for another day.

Manufacturers, to their credit, are trying to add safety to their products, to save lives and sell more cars. The advancement in active safety measures has been impressive these last few years and though it’s apparent that not all of these new technologies can claim a definitive ‘number of lives saved’ they are obviously doing their bit in the fight against any incident ranging from a simple accident to a vehicle-related death. But are these systems sometimes too smart for their own good?

Take the FCM system. At its extreme, you could suggest that people will no longer care to look too far ahead, ‘safe’ in the knowledge that the car will tell them when they need to start paying attention.

I also wonder if cars that reverse-park themselves will render that driving skill obsolete…and how much damage will be caused a) if the technology fails and b) if the driver has to do it for themselves! The same goes for cars which use FCM and/or sonar to adjust vehicle speed automatically (and in extremes perform an emergency brake with no driver input). The intent is to avoid upcoming dangers but it can go wrong (search ‘Volvo Brake Test Fail’ on YouTube to see an example).

A rear-facing camera can also embed a sense of dependency on what the camera shows when reversing. I’ve done it myself when in a hurry: “There’s nothing on the screen and the parking sensors aren’t beeping, so I should be right.” It’s usually then that a pedestrian appears from the side, or a stationary object in your blind-spot suddenly greets your bodywork.

More broadly, Automatic Stability Control (ASC) systems do a wonderful job in assisting safety- just watch a driver training demonstration video for proof of that. In my opinion, however, it can lead to complacency behind the wheel and a lack of understanding as to what caused the ASC to trigger in the first place. In my mind, ASC and indeed these other technologies can be seen as cures, but developing your awareness by taking a defensive or advanced driver training course can prevent a potential accident from occurring in the first place. Such courses will also aid in your understanding of these systems and show you how to work with them rather than rely on them completely.

7 comments

  1. Pieta says:

    I tend to agree that we could become more complacent and not gain the concentration skills we should all have. Although I must admit that I would love to have assisted parking sometimes when I stuff up a reverse park when under the pump!
    I would love to see automatic dusk-sensing headlights on all cars though. The number of drivers who do not switch on their headlights in approaching darkness or heavy rain contribute to many near-misses and upset drivers.

    February 25th, 2013 at 11:59 am

  2. tom m says:

    Hello

    if you makes thinks to foolproof you breed fools

    Same with industrial safety.

    The above makes soemone thinks its all soemone else’s problem.

    We will get a generation of people who wont know how to park a car.

    Or will be half asleep as thye rely on the anti collision system

    Plus aging electronics is one of the fatsets factros that ages and more rapidly devalues your cars.

    Plus if we got hit like a solar flare as we did in 1859 knwon as the carrington event then these cares woudl be scrap as thye would be fried .

    We will be looking for the leftovers from the 60’s-80’s

    We are smart and dumb at the same time

    February 25th, 2013 at 12:01 pm

  3. Fourbypete says:

    I have no doubt that FCM, ASC and rear facing cameras are taking a lot of the human error out of driving. Car manufacturers have a very long way to go to achieve perfection though. My favorite addition to cars is Audi’s adaptive cruise control, I use it just driving around town although, it’s not that useful in stop/ start traffic. You are right in one respect to reversing cameras, cars need to have flashing lights to warn other drivers and pedestrians that a car is reversing.

    February 25th, 2013 at 1:33 pm

  4. Darryl says:

    Re the FCM – Agree with the author. I am constantly amazed by brakes being slammed on at the last possible minute as if the driver has been taken by surprise. It would seem probable that people get “task orientated” – target fixated if you like, or else overly distracted.
    Boffins would love to fix everything with technology but that presents issues; as described. Technology is fine as long as it works. Having brakes come on without warning in the wrong situation could well end in disaster.

    February 25th, 2013 at 7:17 pm

  5. Scott says:

    Thanks Adam,
    I agree with your sentiment that we are being nursed into a state of disconnectedness with the road. It is quite a shock to think back to the cars I drove as a learner (Mits. Colt 45) and compare to the ‘numbness’ of today’s automobile. Interestingly, I took my kids go-karting on Sunday and despite their relative lack of experience (9 and 11 years) they were quite aware on the track. My son even commented that a lack of rear vision mirrors made it hard to plan for someone passing them from behind. (Although, this didn’t happen much by the end of the session.) No power steering or ESC there! Perhaps that could count for hours for learners’ log books? Just musing.

    February 26th, 2013 at 12:12 pm

  6. Simon says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Any additional safety features, passive or active, are hard to argue against if they can save lives… but there should be no substitute for driver training.

    Employing technology to overcome human stupidity, to the point that it perpetuates it, is dumb.

    February 26th, 2013 at 4:04 pm

  7. Jacob Harrison says:

    A lot of advanced safety technologies are now available for vehicles that have provided the drivers a lot of options. But sometimes these technologies can fail and cause reverse effects. So this is the responsibility of a driver to be alert even if you have installed some safety technology in your car. they should also have knowledge how to handle the vehicle if those system fails. I think the driver training course will help a lot in this regard.

    February 26th, 2013 at 10:27 pm