Road Ahead

Safety Shouldn’t Be Disabled

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All vehicle safety technologies, be they old like seatbelts or new like lane-departure warning, should be mandatory, not optional.

When I was little, my siblings and I would climb into my father’s pickup every weekday morning for a ride to my grandparents’ house. He was very strict about us wearing our seatbelts, so I complied with his demand to put mine on.

Wearing my seatbelt has become a lifelong habit, one I’m glad he drilled into my head from a young age.

When I was ready for my first car, a Pontiac Sunfire, I remember caring greatly that it had those new-fangled airbags. Now, when I’m faced with riding around in one of my husband’s classic cars that doesn’t have airbags, I get skittish.

So you’ll understand where I’m coming from when I say it’s unfortunate many of the advanced safety technologies going into vehicles won’t always work when they should.

That’s because, while automakers are telling us systems that alert you when someone is in your blindspot, or that you’re drifting out of your lane or just plain not paying enough attention to the road are the greatest things since sliced bread, they are allowing vehicle owners to disable them.

Why? Well, those chimes and bleeps and bloops can be just so darn annoying, am I right?

If automakers meet the timing they say they will, drivers soon will have even more impressive safety technologies available.

Displayed during last week’s ITS World Congress were vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian systems that will allow drivers to know if a vehicle, motorcycle or bicycle hidden behind an obstruction is about to cross their path or if a pedestrian with his face buried in his smartphone is about to step off the curb in front of their car.

It is amazing stuff, technology that is sure to take a chunk out of the 30,000-plus highway fatalities involving vehicles every year in the U.S., a number many safety advocates agree still is too high given how much time, effort and money has been spent to make cars, trucks and buses, and the people who use them and live around them, safer.

In no way, shape or form does it make sense these technologies, or the aforementioned blindspot detection, lane-departure warning or driver-inattentiveness warnings, should be allowed to be disabled given how many lives they can potentially save, or at the very least, the non-fatal accidents they could prevent.

There have been indications NHTSA will put its foot down and require these advanced safety technologies be continuously on.

There was a time drivers found seatbelts annoying. They were tight, wrinkled your clothes and were just plain contradictory to the freedom driving was supposed to bring. But most got over those issues, realizing seatbelts did more good than harm.

Laws in every state save for live-free-or-die New Hampshire helped too, to the point where a record 87% of Americans buckled up in 2013, up from 60% in 1995, says NHTSA.

Chimes, bleeps and bloops? Drivers just will have to get over those, too.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com

Discuss this Blog Entry 12

on Sep 17, 2014

Yes, drivers will get used to the annoying noises and learn to tune them out.
I'm of the old school who believes that if you are stupid enough to walk in front of a car due to being on your phone, you deserve all that is coming to you.
If you are too busy putting on makeup and hit someone, license lost, car confiscated and sold with proceeds to the victim. If you seriously injure them - jail.
Learn to pay attention and take responsibility.

on Sep 17, 2014

I agree that some of the new technology is good, but please, I don't want some idiot in Washington looking over my shoulder at every turn of the steering wheel. There are certain conditions when I don't want stability control/traction control to activate and there are times when lane-departure warning systems are more distracting than helpful. You are not old enough to remember the great seatbelt interlock fiasco of 1974 when all new cars had to be equipped with a system to keep the car from starting if the front belts were not fastened. Set a bag of groceries on the passenger seat and you had to belt it in or no-start. Even regular seatbelt users, myself included, soon found various ways of circumventing the system. I have no doubt that eliminating the off switch on some of these new technologies will just force car owners to devise ways around the problem

on Sep 18, 2014

Mrs. Schweinsberg, how about some research into how often airbags deploy? You might find average drivers won't see one if they drive 1.5 to two lifetimes. Maybe you won't feel so skittish riding in older cars. And did you know you can adjust your mirrors so you don't even have blind spots? My point is your belief in technology shouldn't absolve you from the fundamental responsibility as a driver: paying attention while behind the wheel.

on Sep 20, 2014

ABS, Trac, Skid Control - good.
Mandatory sensors interpreting the world around you and telling you where/how to drive - not good. (not even as optional equipment!)
As far as pedestrian safety, drive a straight truck through a downtown area of a major college campus town sometime. The last thing younger people need is a reason to feel safer and not pay attention because there are no repercussions for their actions.
Here's a simple and cost effective safety precaution that almost guarantees people have to pay attention in heavy city traffic - a true manual transmission. Good luck doing the other extraneous thing that fools like to do with their hands in heavy traffic if they have a manual transmission.
There are way too many folks looking for the easy answer (i.e. tech) to solve the safety question. I will not have the system constantly going nuts at me during a snow storm &/or on some of the crappy roads we have around here (southern WI)
And this is from a pretty liberal person!

on Sep 22, 2014

Anything new brings with it two failure modes; first a false positive (i.e. operates when it shouldn't such as an airbag deploying when there is no accident), and second a false negative (i.e. doesn't operate when it should, such as a blind spot warning not alerting you to a vehicle in your blind spot). Despite automakers' and suppliers' best efforts, these failure modes are inevitable; all we can try to do is minimize how often they occur and reduce the consequences when they do occur.

One way to reduce the consequences is to allow the driver to override the system when circumstances dictate it. One example that I have personally experienced on several occasions is false warnings from blind spot detection systems. In these cases, it was clear that a large accumulation of snow/ice/slush/road dirt on my vehicle was affecting the system. Rather than being constantly distracted by warnings of non-existent vehicles in my blind spot and having to take my eyes off the road to look over my shoulder to confirm the false positive, I switch the system off and rely on the mirrors and looking over my shoulder before changing lanes. Fewer driver distractions (and annoyances)=more attention available for the driving task=increased safety.

on Sep 22, 2014

In no way, shape or form was my blog meant to convey that I think drivers and pedestrians should pay less attention to driving. However, I think it's clear Americans are in love with their smartphones and will use them while driving or in crowded urban areas no matter how much you tell them not to. That's where these advanced safety technologies come in, to save people from the poor decisions that sadly they'll continue to make.

As for the sometimes buggy nature of new technologies, I've too experienced blind-spot warnings due to ice and snow buildup on sensors. Right now that's a sensor issue that is trying to be solved. Until a solution can be reached maybe teaching drivers to clean their sensors the same way we teach them to clean their windshield is needed??

on Sep 24, 2014

Your analogy of teaching drivers to clear blind spot sensors the way we teach them to clear windshields doesn't really work once the vehicle is in motion. We have defrosters, wipers, and washers to keep the windshield clean while we are driving. I much prefer to switch blind spot detection off as opposed stopping on the side of the road in the dark in inclement weather to clear the accumulated slush off of the malfunctioning blind spot sensors. This presents a much higher risk to my safety than potentially missing a car in my blind spot.

There are many other examples of advanced safety systems that don't always provide a benefit in all circumstances...forward collision warning false alarms for vehicles that slow down and make a turn in front of your car, parking sensors that warn you of a car close to the front of your car as you're backing up...lane departure warning systems that are fooled by unusual road markings...these systems will never be infallible, and giving the driver the option to temporarily disable them is a viable option to work around their shortcomings. As these relatively immature technologies mature and become more dependable, there will be less incentive for drivers to switch them off--the problem will correct itself.

on Sep 24, 2014

Cell phones and other electronic devices are very distracting, and so is putting on make up. If it isn't one thing, it will be something else. You can't completely protect people from themselves. We have met the enemy and they are us.

I am responsible for my driving, not the automaker.

on Sep 24, 2014

.....Someone will kill someone else, and say that the system didn't do it's job. Naturally, they will sue the automaker.

on Sep 24, 2014

Great stuff Christie.
The Chinese are new at car ownership and motoring. And of course they are struggling to get up to speed on traffic safety. Is there anything you could write that could be addressed to them, or their industry journalists? It'd be a big help.
I understand that only about ten percent of Chinese car owners with little kids, use car safety seats....
Thanks.
By the way, I would like to see every news agency that reports a motoring death, to print within the article, whether the victim was wearing a seat belt or not, in contrasting RED letters. It would be a standard that could save lives.

on Sep 24, 2014

When these sophisticated electronic systems fail, are the owners going to spend $1000's to get them fixed? You know they won't, if they are off-warranty. Same with nav systems, and touch-screen controls. Just more cars in the boneyard years ahead of time because an unnecessarily complex and expensive system has failed.

on Oct 12, 2014

When I was ready for my first car, a Pontiac Sunfire, I remember caring greatly that it had those new-fangled airbags. Now, when I’m faced with riding around in one of my husband’s classic cars that doesn’t have airbags, I get skittish.

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