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THE
OUTSIDE LINE

Matt is concerned about the accelerating reliance upon driving aids. Designed to help, they more than often be-fuddle

M

 

otorway driving can be exceedingly boring at times, especially with some of our drab, grey, typically British weather providing the backdrop. Swarms of dull coloured, shapeless boxes whiz past whilst you try to find something that holds your attention to the task in hand. Luckily you have some features on your car that help with this sort of thing, radar guided cruise control, blind

spot sensors, lane assists, etc. You activate the car's computer brain and relax into the journey knowing that it has things covered. You can ease up slightly as the car steers itself, keeping to its lane, accelerating and slowing to the car in front, letting you know if anyone is hidden in your blind spot.

In theory, this frees up mental space from the tasks necessary for driving, to enable you to focus on the potential hazards around you. It can, however, lull people into a false sense of security, as the car is driving itself, so why would you have to check your blind spots or accurately judge the speed of the car coming up to overtake in the outside lane? The dealer assured you of the systems’ merits and functionality as you stretched your budget to get the best.  

 

I can see how some of these features would have an important role in improving road safety but why then, does it seem to be that every other story about them is one of spectacular failure. Read on through the self-driving car scepticism and the reasons behind these high-profile failings start to become clear. They’re down to a fundamental lack of knowledge and understanding about how they are supposed to work with the driver and not in place of them. This unfortunately is backed up by the misguided and dangerous methods of advertising them to customers. 

 

In reality, this technology is still way off being completely un-reliant on human input. With manufacturers selling it as an ‘Autopilot’ or ‘self-driving’ feature, it’s not hard to imagine why people are abusing the system to finish the next chapter of that book or quickly checking how many likes your new post got on Instagram. Personally, I want to be involved with the driving experience as much as possible, but I understand others might not feel the same way, hence why they rely so much on the aids to do the job for them. It seems that the sensors and radars can’t yet think like a human, but we are all too ready to place full trust in a product being sold to us as a digital chauffeur. 

 

Let’s discuss the levels of road safety in the UK over the past 11 years then, as the increase in depth and variation of driver aids has boomed. According to government statistics, road safety levels, in relation to traffic accidents, have been relatively steady, despite more technological assistance. Surely driving aids should have decreased the number of collisions and casualties on the road? Perhaps then, the seeming ineffectiveness of driver aids to decrease traffic accidents is down to this decreased level of driver engagement and the misunderstanding of how they work. 

 

The newspapers are littered with all manner of crash reports apparently occurring from the occupants abuse of the driving aids. From lack of attention causing minor bumps to full on impacts where the driver has been found in the passenger seats. Tesla owners have made headlines after posting videos online of them sleeping in the back whilst on the motorway or even climbing into the passenger seat once the systems are engaged. Based on these reports, it points to something more than just a lack of understanding and exposes driver stupidity. Whilst this is not a revelation so much, the way these aids are marketed is real cause for concern. 

 

I’m near certain that the time will come when we will be living in scenes from science fiction movies with cars driving around being fed real time road information from a central database.  Passengers in the back heading for work, reading the paper and enjoying a brew. For the time being, these remain firmly in the pages of comic books and on the cinema screens. Driver aids will continue to develop along a gradual upward path to full self-driving capability in the far future but today they continue to be an addition to the driver, or an aid if you will. 

 

Confusingly though, if these driver aids allow a reduced level of engagement by the driver, doesn’t that stand to reason that they cause more damage than they set out to fix? It’s all well and good having the car take over on monotonous stretches of road where little is happening, but we all know how fast things can change when you have lots of cars travelling at 70 miles an hour, and in that instance, I think I’d rather have constant control with my attention on what’s happening right in front of me, even if it’s enough to send you to sleep.