Increased electronics content in cars has undisputedly made cars safer, and additional technologies will only augment that trend. In fact, nearly every traffic accident caused by driver error -- up to 90 percent of all crashes -- could be eliminated if existing intelligent transportation technologies were implemented in our vehicles and roads, say experts at IEEE in a press release.
These include electronics and computing technologies such as in-vehicle machine vision and sensors to detect drowsy drivers, lane departure warning systems, and vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications for safety applications, the release says.
That's an amazing number -- 90 percent. These technologies have to come down in price before they will be widely adopted, the IEEE and industry experts say, but we may see some of them in automobiles within the next 10 years. However, some of this has me worried.
Don't misunderstand: there is no downside to safer vehicles. My concern is and always will be drivers. I'm afraid drivers will get lazy. If your car can wake you up, change lanes, and even parallel park for you, why sleep, signal, or find a garage? The car will take care of it.
There is one fact that disputes this cynical conclusion: the addition of airbags and other safety systems in cars has not resulted in drivers failing to use seat belts. If anything, more drivers wear seat belts than ever. So the addition of safety features such as airbags hasn't made drivers any more complacent.
On the other hand -- and let me preface this by saying I drive in Boston -- some drivers are relying on technology to a degree that is dangerous. I can always tell when someone in front of me is using his GPS (voice-activated or not) because he suddenly swerves across lanes to take an exit or turn onto a street. No signal, nothing. Or someone abruptly stops in an intersection to decide what to do. That's typical of Boston already; GPS just makes it worse. Most folks around here don't bother to signal a simple lane change, either. They might check their rear-view mirrors or look over their shoulders first, but I'm worried that if cars have sensors that detect other vehicles, even that might not happen. Let the car do it.
Another technology in the works is wireless networking technology for vehicle-to-vehicle communication that will help detect dangerous vehicles on the road, such as a car approaching a blind intersection, and warn nearby drivers. I'm afraid people will pay less attention than they do already to stop signs and other traffic signals. Driver A will just assume Driver B knows A is coming. Driver B assumes Driver A's car knows enough to stop. Either way, let the car deal with it.
Lest you think I'm anti-technology (and I'm not), here's a big upside: Intelligent transportation technologies can reduced fuel consumption and emissions. The IEEE says that fuel use and vehicle emissions can be reduced by 20 percent to 30 percent worldwide over the next five years using environmentally-friendly ITS technology such as "eco-routing." This vehicle GPS system capability will allow drivers to select destination routes according to fuel efficiency.
So technology is enabling cars that are smarter than the people driving them. What do you think? Will drivers still obey the rules of the road or let their car figures things out? Let me know on the message board below.