Cars That Are Smarter Than Their Drivers

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.

27 comments on “Cars That Are Smarter Than Their Drivers

  1. SunitaT
    October 17, 2011

    I'm afraid drivers will get lazy.

    @Barbara, I agree with your observation. I think relying more and more on technology will make people lazy and less serious about driving safety. They will take driving rules taken for granted because they feel technology is their to protect them. I hope people start taking technology more seriously.

  2. Nemos
    October 17, 2011

    I liked very much the title of the blog. I am dreaming the day that I don't have to drive my car because it will have an auto – pilot equipment. Since I was a little child I was thinking how it will be if the car is  like the KIT's car.

    Always, a good driver makes the different. The interaction between the human brain and the machine( it doesn't matter how cleaver is) is unique and will be that way for long years more.

  3. DataCrunch
    October 17, 2011

    I am technology evangelist and I also am involved in developing, integrating, and deploying advanced M2M (machine-to-machine) technologies, so I am probably a little biased in my post.   We still have some time before our vehicles are driving around on auto-pilot, but including sensors, vision systems and intelligent devices in vehicles can and will become a reality much sooner.  These are not auto-pilot features, but should be very helpful in providing additional safety benefits to drivers and passengers.

    As for true auto-pilot, I don’t think that it would make me a lazier driver, but a more alert one.  I live in the NYC metro area and I would be wide awake and fully alert, just to make sure the vehicle is doing what it is supposed to be doing.  But like I said, we won’t have to worry about that for a while.    I’m still waiting for my flying vehicle like in the Jetsons cartoon.

  4. _hm
    October 17, 2011

    This is very interesting and innovative development. I wonder how it will effect new driver training and licensing requirements. I wish they develope new standards alongwith developments and help lower the ownership of cars.

  5. Eldredge
    October 18, 2011

    It's really not too difficult to imagine cars that are smarter than their drivers.

  6. Eldredge
    October 18, 2011

    One of the dangers in relying on the modern technology is that older vehicles will lack the equivalent technology – therefore drivers could become dangerously complacent relying on the other drivers non-existant safety equipment.

  7. Jay_Bond
    October 18, 2011

    I think in concept, these are great ideas. The thought that eventually you will be able to get into a car and have little worries. I do feel that we are many years and billions of dollars away from seamless driving by the cars themselves.

    As much as I am for this technology, I think it is going to make bad drivers worse and moderate drivers lazy. The only positive side right now is that these cars are limited.

    I also have concerns about how all of this technology will make it to the road. Look at how many “Junkers” are on the road right now. Or how many people are driving their 20 year old car they bought new and won't replace. In my mind those are just as much a concern as careless drivers.


    October 18, 2011

    I remember an article a while back citing a driver of a massive RV who engaged cruise control and then went into the back of the RV to do something else.  What could electronics do to prevent that disaster?

  9. Tim Votapka
    October 18, 2011

    OK, so here's my top 5 wish list for vehicular intelligence:

    A sensory system that will detect excessive brake wear.

    Cruise control that can predict road conditions some distance ahead of the car (great for those New England trips).

    Auto tint control on the windshield.

    Miles per gallon calculator – real time.

    Peripheral image capture (to catch the people who ding your car in the grocery store parking lot)!



  10. mfbertozzi
    October 18, 2011

    It is an interesting point of view Dave, I could agree with steps forward by adoption of electronics, but I believe major issue on cars is still fuel problem and how to solve the possibility alternative energies could reduce emissions and allow engines run in the right way. If we only think about GPL, big problems for bi-fuel engines are still not resolved by electronics.

  11. tioluwa
    October 18, 2011

    Too much technology in vehicles that will be owned by individuals will defiinatly come with alot of challenges.

    Makes me remember the still debated issue of the air-france plane that crashed. One of the comments made was that Pilots were depending too much on auto-pilot rather than flying the plane themselves.

    So many things have to be put in place before cars can drive themselves, ragardless of the tremendous benefits, the risks are even higher. what about maintenance and repair, or sudden system failure on the highway? Yes good design will take care of this, but we all know how complex systems are prone to fail at times.

    Probably a standard will have to be designed for this, possibly any car with advanced driving features has to have a communication system where any other car in the visitity can know the kind of technology running on other cars around, so as to have an idea what its dealing with.

    whichever way, i for one, though an engineer, i'm skeptical about it.

  12. AnalyzeThis
    October 18, 2011

    The first thing I thought of was Google's self-driving cars. I'm really not sure how much info they've shared about these, but they have acknowledged that they've invested quite a bit of work into this.

    I think the technology for this kind of thing is probably more advanced than most people realized, but there's absolutely gigantic obstacles preventing actual implementation and adoption of such technology. Even if they do figure out how to get this to work at a low cost, I think a combination of regulation and consumer skepticism/fear would prevent something like Google's experiments from becoming reality anytime within the next 50-60 years or so.

  13. Taimoor Zubar
    October 18, 2011

    I think it's an interesting debate on how much intelligence should be incorporated in the cars. I am not very much in favor of systems which would make the drivers lazy and make them be dependent on the technology. At the end of the day, no technology is 100% foolproof and cannot be completely relied on. Ideally, technology should serve as a backup mechanism which is able to prevent accidents when human beings make mistakes.

  14. Taimoor Zubar
    October 18, 2011

    What could electronics do to prevent that disaster?”

    Car manufacturers may start embedding sensors on the driver's seat to stop the car if the driver has moved away from his seat 🙂

  15. Houngbo_Hospice
    October 18, 2011

    If my car can be smart enough to help me avoid accidents, why not. With the improvement of Artificial Intelligent and Machine Learning techniques, we will see more and more self-controlled devices that would be able to do things better than emotional human beings. That is the future. 

  16. Houngbo_Hospice
    October 18, 2011


    Car manufacturers may start embedding sensors on the driver's seat to stop the car if the driver has moved away from his seat 🙂

    For a widespread use I'm certain that manufacturres will make sure that actions to minimize errors as possible. But no technology is 100% secure.

  17. prabhakar_deosthali
    October 19, 2011

    One thing I fear of these advanced technology cars is that , it will not only make the drivers loosing their attentiveness and skills to negotiate the car from the unexpected situations, it will also make a habit among the drivers to blame the technology whnever there is an accident and thus shirk away from the responsibility. The insurance companies will have tough time on fixing the cause of the accident . This angle needs to be carefully looked at while putting new features related to automated driving in the car..


    Are the technology companies ready to take the balme if their technology fails in the crucial moments and costs life?

  18. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 19, 2011

    Great debate all, and I thought I was being too hard on drivers! The same article I got this infromation from did mention self-driving vehicles. So far they are being targeted at applications such as farming. As strange as I think that would look, I actually think this is one area in which technology can help, assuming all the bugs are worked out.

  19. tioluwa
    October 19, 2011

    even beyond farming, google's self-driving vehicle design is being applied to golf carts,  and they are actually hoping self-driving cars will be used for real road transport. They believe the technology can help make the road safer, and also maximize the road use as the self-driving cards will be able to drive very closely together on the road without fear of collision.

    Not to mention that Nevada has made self-driving cars legal.

  20. saranyatil
    October 20, 2011

    I feel we will miss out on the original feel of driving and off late we have been seeing the addition of electronics to the automotive industry.

  21. Eldredge
    October 20, 2011

    @prabhakar  Good point. Some other realated thingd to consider as well….what happens if the driver's instinct differs from the technology when reacting to an incident – which one takes control? What if the overall system fails on a massive scale – will traffic come to a standstill ?

  22. Eldredge
    October 20, 2011

    Yes – perhaps some day we will long for the 'driving freedom' we had in the 20th century!

  23. Adeniji Kayode
    October 20, 2011

    This is a good article and its really interesting. I am thinking that giving so much comfort to drivers wolud definately have somw adverse effort and what about the effects of this technology on the driver,s health.

  24. Adeniji Kayode
    October 20, 2011

    You are alright, I,m thinking if we have to have all these conviences in our cars as a result of technology, the question is- would there not be another gadget that allow the driver to do a self -test on all these technology before hitting the road because the best of machine is still machine and the efficiency of every machine is always less than 100% 

  25. Adeniji Kayode
    October 20, 2011

    @ prabnakar. That was a brilliant comment you made. so much blame are going to be on the technology and which technology company will always be ready to answer to the consequences of having their devices failing or said to fail.

    If this is not handled well, we will be looking in to so much reckless drivers and increase in road accident all in the name of failed technology that is suppose to asist the drivers

  26. JADEN
    October 20, 2011

    Technology is good, but as we all know that driving require mental and senses alertness.  If you leave your driving senses to technology devices, accident is at high risk.

  27. Tim Votapka
    October 21, 2011

    That's a key aspect (the feel of the car) that has contributed to a higher percentage of vehicular accidents. When I was a college student, the '74 Pinto shook and vibrated at speeds over 60 mph which made me more conscious of the velocity of I was driving at on the open road. Today's car doesn't “feel” that effect which has allowed most drivers to be oblivious to the speed they may be driving at. And as far as I know nothing electronic has been released to market that reads speed limits based on geo-location or road sign scans. Now there's an idea!

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