Driver assistance or dumbing down our skills base?
By Martin Wedge, MD of OVL Group
Friday, August 29, 2014 - 13:14
Expert Opinion: Martin Wedge, MD of OVL Group
To get the benefit of modern technology, do we actually have to drive dumb?
I spoke in my last article – ‘Who’s Driving this Thing?’ – about the Government and industry failure to justify why we are developing ‘driverless car’ technology. I get the technological argument but everyday driver benefits have yet to be explained by the agencies putting up the tens of millions of pounds of research money.
Technology brings undoubted benefits, but there are also concerns. Electronic help is often put under the banner of safety, but is this just a marketing ploy and, are they really safe?
Road signs that appear on the dashboard may seem like a useful gadget, but surely it is better for the driver to be looking outside the car at the actual road and signs? Hill start assist will guarantee that those drivers will never practice the skill of a nicely executed hill start, and simply forget how to do it. Lane departure warning, and tiredness alarms now mean that you can drive until you really are too tired and the car will let you know when to stop.
It is human nature to become lazy particularly if the circumstances are familiar ones, and the environment is comfortable. Car manufacturers have for years made cars a more ‘friendly’ environment on the inside, but the problem is that the environment in the outside world is still just as dangerous. Or is it? What about the technology itself making the journey dangerous?
Latest developments will see cars that will refuse to move if the onboard technology detects an approaching hazard such as another vehicle travelling from the right as you are trying to pull out from a side road. Already many cars have auto braking systems to prevent you running into the back of a stationary or slowing car ahead. Here, anomalies abound as each manufacturer has differing parameters which control the triggering of the braking; some don’t assist if you are touching the brake pedal already, others will increase your effort if the system “thinks” you are not pressing hard enough. Surely there is room for standard parameters across all vehicles? They all take time to “lock on” to a hazard, so any suddenly appearing hazards are still up to the driver to deal with.
Manufacturers marketing departments are always searching for the new safety feature that will set them apart from the competition. Here we fall victim to a strange paradox; once you have a safety system, to then not have it is seen as being dangerous and probably is dangerous as the driver comes to rely on the safety system and not their own skills. Galloping advances in computing technology, processing speed and diminishing component size and cost have made it possible to do increasing complex task quickly and cheaply. Even the humble lighting switch has now mostly been replaced by an encoder to tell a computer when to turn on the lights.
Of course technology is designed and built by humans so mistakes creep in. There have already been cases of a brake assist system misrecognising a vehicle in an adjacent lane as being in front and not beside (particularly on a curving motorway in traffic) and the driver finds the brakes have been applied for him. We can only hope in such an instance that the driver behind him had his brake assist working! There have been cases where Electronic Stablility Control (ESC) will fail to recognise that the driver is taking skid prevention action, as he was trained to do years ago, and it assumes that the road now goes the way the driver is turning the steering. Consequently, it will send him off road by the method of differential brake application.
So, to get the benefit of modern technology, do we actually have to drive dumb?
Martin Wedge is Managing Director at OVL Group, a specialist car leasing firm.