Smart(er) cars.

New figures released last week show the UK near the top of the rankings when it comes to minimising fatalities on roads; Only Sweden has fewer deaths per million caused by road traffic collisions (RTC), 25 vs the UK’s 28.

What contributes to this lower number is generally reckoned to be a combination of improved vehicle tech, better road design and more public awareness of safety issues such as seatbelts, driving under influence of drink or drugs, using phones when behind the wheel, awareness driven by big government information campaigns.

The same RAC article linked below also highlights that most RTC’s continue to be caused by driver error, with some form of distraction directly attributed to between 10 and 30% of all fatal incidents. A pretty sad and unnecessary state of affairs.

Read the full article here:

Your car is getting smarter. But is it smart enough?

One of my daughter’s favourite ‘tricks’ to get the car to play is parking itself. The youngest loves the way the wheel ‘turns on it’s own like magic’. To be honest, it’s a faff so I try not to use it other than to make them happy. Worst than being a faff though is the fact that it’s just, well, not very good at it.

Let me say now, I’m no great parker – at least not in a ‘natural’ sense. I have to work at it, computing angles, checking mirrors, making constant minor adjustments. (Needless to say, it’s always interesting demoing the skill to a trainee…)

But whether it’s because the sensors aren’t positioned correctly, the software isn’t up to scratch or the AI simply isn’t good enough, I know one thing: I can definitely park better than the computer in my car, and so can you!

Another example: occasionally I’ll be on a road empty enough to use cruise control, or allow the trainees to use it (yep, it’s acceptable on test too!) This particular model of Focus has a setting so that the onboard camera picks up speed limit signs, and the radar picks up vehicles and other obstacles (I consider anything or anyone in the way an obstacle to my progress. Just kidding 🙂 ) directly ahead. Ford call it ‘Intelligent Cruise’.

It isn’t. Intelligent, that is. At least, not in the sense of what a good, defensively minded driver would do. For instance, heading towards a 30 zone from a National Speed Limit, it’ll pick up the sign all right, but only as it passes it.

Pretty obvious what sort of problems, safety and legal – wise could arise there…

This type of tech is usually marketed under the headline ‘driver assist’ or ‘driver aids’. No doubt some of it can and does help, especially with differently-abled drivers, and this is clearly a good thing. Anything that makes life easier for people previously excluded from or hindered by driving is a huge step forward. And, yeah, it’s pretty snazzy and a glimpse of far greater automation to come.

It’s just, I can’t quite shake the impression that…

  • Some of this stuff is added to cars to bump up the price
  • The design is cheap and cheerful nonetheless
  • There’s little thought gone into how it’s going to work

Aside from the fact that this tech is supposed to ‘assist’ not ‘take over’ from the driver, and the other undeniable fact that I generally love technology and innovations, I reckon at this stage of car development, it still pays for most drivers to stick to good old fashioned skills, and to treat ‘smart’ aids as little more than ‘last resort’ contingencies, relied upon only when absolutely needed.

The Ford Focus. Smart, but perhaps not as smart as it could be…

So next time you’re approaching a 30 from a NSL, and you find yourself easing off the gas peddle well in advance, and you reach the sign at spot-on 30, you’ll know that when ‘driver assist’ can do the same, it will genuinely be a contender for the name ‘Smarter Car’!

New European laws require all new cars to be fitted with speed limiters from 2022. See more at Motoring Research

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