Cars have been around for well over a hundred years now (well 130 if you want to be pedantic). With the advent of computerisation, we've seen more change in the last 30 years than in any other history of the car... so much so that the promise of autonomous driving cars is just around the corner. Pretty much all the leading manufacturers are testing their own version of the concept.
There is no doubt that when all the safety systems present are working in harmony, cars can be safer overall than without them.
New cars are now so chock full of driver aids, your every day average commute should pose significantly less drama on the roads, right?
So is there a downside to all this tech?
Let's take a look at a fairly typical mid-size family car, like the current Mazda 3. If you count off all the passive and active driver systems present, you'll get tongue tied.
Blind Spot Monitoring, Smart City Brake Support, Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Traction Control System (TCS), Emergency Stop Signal (ESS) and Hill Launch Assist (HLA)
Woah, that's ten systems all up! That could also be 10 potential hazards should the computers and software controlling it all go on the fritz, or worse, if they get confused by sensor information . There is a lot of complex software monitoring all these computer driven safety features.
Another potential hazard we're facing is our blind faith reliance on technology; building up false confidence that technology aids will cover our shortfalls... like focusing on your reverse camera whilst backing up to the exclusion of all else, which is a sure recipe for a side collision.
The scariest thing of all is the possibility your car could be remotely hacked. If your car were a 2013 model or newer and has an infotainment system connected to the Internet, there's a chance of vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to remotely access other car systems, like say, brakes, steering or transmission. Imagine if full braking was applied without warning at highway speeds, the consequences could be dire.
Far-fetched? So far hackers have successfully demonstrated the ability to breach the systems of BMW, Mercedes Benz, Chrysler, Nissan, Jeep and Cadillac, to name a few.
So what's the purpose of my rant? I've personally experienced my own current model car chuck a computer wobbly. This isn't pie in the sky stuff and it's happened enough now to be a concern... a couple of times on my own, twice with my son in the car and once with a friend present. On that occasion my friend exclaimed, "wtf was that?"
What's worse, is there is no consistency to show why the glitch is happening, apart from the car being in motion with driving conditions I'd consider to be nothing out of the ordinary. So what's happening?
Well, the car has been applying brakes for no apparent reason. So far it's only been for a split second and at nothing more than city traffic speeds. The first time it happened it scared the bejesus out of me. Before you say, "Oh that was your stability control systems cutting in"; no crazy shenanigans were going on, I was just toddling along. One occasion was an a flat uphill ascent in a straight line! Really???
In my brain I'm thinking, "What would happen if we were carrying some serious speed and the system decides to do its own thing?" You can see how unsettling that would be.
The closest thing I can come up with is that it might be the "Hill Start Assist" getting confused and applying the brakes when it shouldn't. I will get it checked out, and if it is the culprit, hopefully I can have the feature disabled.
So here we come to the dilemma... my car features driver assist technology that apply the brakes when it deems necessary, but how can I be sure that the car knows better than me?
If those systems aren't present then, we the drivers are alone responsible for making those decisions... and if we're not capable of making those decisions, especially under emergency conditions, then maybe we shouldn't be driving in the first place.
It's a hard call and I'd like to hear from the masses. Are new cars too smart?