Vehicle Technology, Part 2

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Mar 6 2017 / By Andy Pilgrim

Vehicle Technology, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about vehicle technology, highlighting seat belts and anti-lock brakes (ABS). I focused on how important it is for drivers/passengers to always use seat belts and how important it is for all drivers to understand how to fully utilize their vehicles ABS. I wanted to underline the importance of education when it comes to drivers understanding why and how to use even the most basic safety technology.

In this post, I will talk about some of the most up to date technology we now find in our vehicles. Once again, without education to help drivers understand how best to use it, much of this newest technology is not only useless but can in fact also cause problems for the driver.

There has been exponential growth in the technology found in our vehicles over the last 6 years; no slowdown is coming soon. I had a student pose a question at a conference a year or so ago. They asked me, “Why did 2015 see the biggest increase in traffic related fatalities in 50 years when we have all this new safety technology in vehicles?” Her question certainly got me thinking. I followed up with some research and ended up with a headache—all is not well on US roads.

Here’s a list of the newest driver aid/safety technology we now find in many vehicles:

  • Cameras (facing out, likebackup cameras, and on cameras focused on the driver)
  • Sonar/Ultrasound
  • Radar
  • Microphones
  • Lidar (not common yet, too expensive)
  • Sensory/Haptic (vibration warning)

As little as 5 years ago, we only found these types of technology in very expensive vehicles. Now much of it is optional or standard in many vehicles costing under $30k.

Research is showing the majority of drivers in the US have little to no clue what technology their vehicle carries. I also found many drivers turn off much of their new technology very quickly after they purchase their vehicle, because it annoys them with beeps, boings and vibrating seats. Lane departure, speed and spacing warnings are just a few that get turned off—not exactly what the vehicle engineers hoped for when they spent years in development.

Another problem I found is drivers becoming over-reliant on new technology. Much of the tech comes with a manufacturer warning, because vehicle manufacturers know this new technology (Infotainment Systems, Semi-Autonomous Modes, etc.) can quickly disable a driver from paying full attention.

A warning associated with semi-autonomous driving mode (self-steering/lane centering) advises the driver to pay full attention and be ready to take back control of the vehicle at any moment. Unfortunately, most drivers do the complete opposite and stop paying attention to their driving surroundings while they use these semi-autonomous functions.

This is very much the same problem drivers have while using their smartphones while driving; they forget to drive.

Here is something for drivers thinking about when using semi-autonomous driving mode. The vehicle may indeed be able to keep a safe space between traffic in front, auto brake when needed and keep itself it a lane. But, when the driver completely zones out while using self-driving mode, they are vulnerable to impact from the side or the rear or even head on by another driver. Why would they be so vulnerable to impact? Because currently, a vehicle’s only response while in self driving mode is to brake. Vehicles in self-driving mode cannot currently evade. If the driver is effectively out to lunch and does nothing to react to the incoming danger, then a crash or collision is inevitable.

Another point for drivers to think about: Many company vehicles now have new technology in them. This can present problems for drivers when they go back to their own vehicle that may not have the same new technology. Your teen driver might experience the same problem, too. Families can have multiple vehicles of different ages with varying levels of safety technology.

A friend of mine had blind spot warning technology in his company truck. He would hear a beep and his seat would vibrate if he actuated his turn signal and another vehicle was in his blind spot. His own vehicle didn’t have this function. One day, while driving home from work, he admitted to being on his hands-free phone (distracted) as he turned on his signal. He didn’t feel the seat vibrate or hear a beep and proceeded to change lanes.

Here’s the problem: he had become conditioned to not checking his mirrors while driving his company truck. He relied totally on the beep and seat vibration to warn him of the presence of another vehicle. Distracted by his hand-free phone conversation, he had forgotten he was in his own car and made the lane change without checking his mirrors, just as he would have in his company truck. The result? He hit the vehicle next to him and both vehicles crashed hard.

The lesson here is to be aware of the car you're driving and not become reliant on the safety technology. Your teen driver needs to know how to properly use the technology on those vehicles with advanced safety features in your household. However, it is imparitive that your teen also knows what to do when they are driving a vehicle without that technology. Your teen needs to realize that they ultimely have control of the car, and it will remain that way for some time. How long?

Fully autonomous vehicles will not be here for many years, in my humble opinion. To be clear, when I say fully autonomous, I mean a vehicle with the ability to make the right choices on how to evade impacts with human controlled vehicles (braking is not enough). In order to accomplish that, the vast majority of vehicles on the road will need to be fully autonomous. That will take a long, long time.

New technology in vehicles already saves lives every day. It will continue to get better and become more user friendly. All drivers—especially teens—need to know what new technology is in their vehicle, how to efficiently use it and remember that they're still driving.

Be safe out there everyone.

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