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Let the Car Drive

Robert Scoble talks to Ford’s Steve Kozak about radar-based collision warning systems and adaptive cruise control. One big question is how willing drivers will be to stay within the parameters that the car’s computers say is the safe following distance; human drivers regularly go past those thresholds, in part because of overconfidence and in part because the average driver doesn’t have a clue as to what the car’s actual stopping distance is (unlike the precise radar and algorithms). Then there’s the issue that most of us don’t have to conduct full-on emergency braking on an everyday basis. I’m also still not sure how these systems avoid the “off-ramp problem” — at the moment you should be braking, the cruise control, sensing no cars ahead, may accelerate to your desired speed. Does anyone have any experience with this? On balance though I’d say, if commercial aviation is any guide, these systems can’t help but improve safety, given the natural perceptual limitations (and psychological quirks) of humans.

(thanks Peter)

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 6:26 am and is filed under Cars, Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Let the Car Drive”

  1. Corey Burger Says:

    The problem with the comparison to aircraft is that it is mostly false. Driving is essentially flying in formation, something that most pilots or planes never do. The sheer number of variables is much higher and the margin of error much lower. Further, “letting the car drive” implies complete auto-control, akin to autotake-off/landing, both of which require something few airports have: the actual hardware/software in place to support it. So that leaves us with autopilot, which modern cars basically already have. It is called cruise control.

  2. Sean Says:

    I wonder how long it will be before we have access to the settings in the computers in our cars. You should be able to set your own follow distance, rpms under acceleration, and time lag between alarm tone and vehicle deceleration and braking.

    I’ve heard that most cruise controls accelerate more slowly than is useful for maximum fuel efficiency, and if it would brake quickly enough you could decrease your follow distance and increase fuel efficiency.

  3. Rob Says:

    I have driven an Audi with the adaptive cruise control.

    Its neat and it works well. The offramp situation is simple though; make sure you hit the brakes. If for instance you follow another car on an offramp though the car will slow itself down.

    Where I think this systems will cause problems however is in that it will make people who already dont pay attention, pay less attention. When driving on a highway with this system on you dont have to do anything except stay in the lane, it makes already monotonous highway driving even worse.

    It is also a little annoying on the highways up here in Toronto because it leaves a large enough gap that EVERYONE thinks you are leaving a large enough gap for them to move into, so you are constantly being cut off and slowed down automatically.

    Really though I do think these systems are pointless. As it just removes that extra bit of attention required to operate the gas and brake.

  4. Andy Says:

    These scare me. My neighbor backed into another car in the parking area (there’s usually about 4 cars there) because she was not paying attention and blamed it on the back-up sensor not beeping. I’m sure she thought it wasn’t her fault because her expensive back-up system caused it. What happens when one of these special cruise control systems causes an accident? Will the driver then blame the company that made the system? And I agree with the above comment, making monotonous highway even easier will mean more people falling asleep, texting, doing makeup, reading, etc. while driving. Great…

  5. fred_dot_u Says:

    When motor vehicle operators take responsibility for safe operation, none of these gadgets will be needed. Oh, wait, that’s only going on in utopia, that place in my dreams.

    One hears manufacturers and others describe “safer” cars and trucks, but it’s not really true. It only means that the vehicle is less likely to injure the operator and passengers than other designs.

    Let’s make every motor vehicle require operators to sit in a structure surrounded by clear plastic, with allowances for greenhouse heating, of course, so that every collision results in injury to the operator. Since all vehicles will be so equipped, every operator will exercise great care to avoid crashes.

    Yep, that’s utopian again, isn’t it?

  6. John Says:

    All the other remarks are true. It will always be the driver, not the car, as the ultimate safety device– that’s why I write my blog.

  7. Victoria Gerken Says:

    We have a car with auto lane correction (and all the other features mentioned above) and the most annoying thing it does is beep randomly when we are driving in snow. It can’t disinguish the lines from the snow which would suggest that this technology is by no means fool-proof (let alone driver-proof) at this stage of the game!

  8. Eric Says:

    @Sean:

    How do you figure that decreasing your follow distance increases fuel efficiency? Even an extra 30 feet b/w you and the car ahead of you while traveling at 70 mph means you’ll arrive 0.3 seconds later than you would have otherwise.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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