Do Advanced Safety Systems Make Drivers Lazy?
A GM engineer who develops and tests driver-assist systems says they are meant to work with, not replace, driver attention.
Advanced safety systems such as blind-spot detection and lane-departure warning that alert drivers to potential hazards are becoming more common. The next step in the evolution of “driver-assist” technology is systems such as lane-departure prevention and forward-collision warning with auto braking that take control away from the driver, in certain situations, to prevent accidents.
While these systems are still primarily found only on higher-end vehicles, they’re starting to trickle down to less expensive cars -- and will spread even faster if governments get involved and mandate them in an effort to reduce traffic deaths and accidents. It’s already happening in Europe.
European regulations passed recently require all new cars from 2014 onward to be equipped with autonomous emergency braking, which takes over in the event of a crash to stop the vehicle if the driver cannot. The European New Car Assessment Program, Europe's version of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration here in the U.S., will include the feature in its assessment of all new cars, and models without the technology won’t be able to achieve a five-star safety rating.
While no one should dispute that driver-assist technology can help prevent accidents and save lives, some contend that such automotive safety nets make drivers lazier and less likely to learn good driving skills in the first place. The reasoning goes something like this: If drivers know that they have a system such as blind-spot detection, they won’t bother to check their side mirrors or look over their shoulder before changing lanes.
But an engineer who develops and tests these systems strongly disagrees, saying that these systems are meant to augment, not replace, driver attention -- which is still the most crucial factor for preventing accidents.
Jim Nickolaou, an engineer for General Motors, tested the advanced driver-assistance systems in the new Cadillac XTS and upcoming ATS, including the Automatic Collision Preparation and Front and Rear Automatic Braking systems that are used in Cadillac’s Safety Alert Seat to deliver warnings to drivers via a pulse through the seat cushion. Previously in his career, Nickolaou developed and tested radar and other systems for F-14 and F-15 fighter jets, and he also worked on the GM team that built autonomous vehicles for the DARPA Grand Challenge in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University.
“My job at GM is to get these technologies into cars,” Nickolaou said. “But my passion is to reduce the number of accidents. I’m trying to take the technology and knowledge I’ve gained over the years and implement them into the Cadillac line by building these systems.
"There’s no such thing as perfectly safe vehicle,” he added. “But enhanced driver-assistance systems such as full-range adaptive cruise, lane-departure warning, collision mitigation really will help. And with some of the future technology we have coming, we’re going to provide a safer environment for drivers.”
But Nickolaou also stressed that human intervention is key. “We never want to take the driver out of the experience of driving,” he said. “The electronics are no match for the driver being completely in charge of the vehicle.” That even extends to when the car will take over much of the driving task in the not-too-distant future.
Cadillac has already unveiled a semiautonomous driving technology called Super Cruise, which is capable of fully automatic steering, braking and lane-centering under certain driving conditions; it could be ready for production vehicles by the middle of the decade. But don’t expect to kick back behind the wheel even then. “I used to drive back and forth from Carnegie Mellon a lot, and it’s a boring drive,” Nickolaou said. “But semiautonomous cars will never take the driver out of the equation.”
The technology will make driving more pleasant in some situations, such as long, boring drives like the one that Nickolaou described. It will also help save lives; after all, sensors and cameras don't get bored or distracted the way humans do.
Doug Newcomb has been covering car technology for more than 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and car technology, especially driving and listening to music.
"Do Advanced Safety Systems Make Drivers Lazy?" That would be "Lazier" Too many drivers are already lazy about their attention to the road and surroundings.
I was aware of the car about to rear-end me, but I couldn't do anything to avoid that....
The "bubble-wrap for a false sense of security" syndrome at work. Then when stupidity leads to an increase in 'accidents' (which are not accidents - they are the logical outcome of the lack of attention) there comes a demand for more technology (and increased lawsuits), which exacerbates the problem. You can cure ignorance but you can't fix stupid.
Anyone so addicted to texting, talking in the car other than an emergency, or surfing the web that they have to do it while driving should stay home or find a driver (friend, cab, bus, etc).
These systems are distracting, yes; but they are even more-so unnecessary. No one NEEDS traction control, ABS, automatic headlights, park assist, "smart" AWD, or airbags. But since we do drive around inside a soft pillow on four wheels now-a-days, people think it "may be okay to hit something."
These systems are essentially making it "easier" (more care-free) to drive, hence dumbing down everyone on the road. All these safety systems don't change the fact that there's still a brainless moron - such as frostyross - behind the wheel.
Does tech make drivers lazy?
Not as much as if makes them drive ... STUPID!
Car tech = stupid 1st, lazy 2nd.
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