New Strides in Car Safety

January 24th, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

The latest features may correct for your distracted behavior, but will that lead to more carelessness behind the wheel?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Recent articles have detailed the advances in new car features that can help the elderly by performing functions like helping park the car and sending a warning before a driver drifts out of his lane. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, a car market with helpful features intended for older drivers could be a boon to public safety. Liberty Mutual Insurance has made driving safety a priority by being a resource for ideas on how to talk to your elderly loved ones and teens about being safe behind the wheel.

And now, there’s even more news in advanced safety features. A New York Times story detailed upcoming automotive technological advances that correct for all kinds of driver error, taking evasive actions automatically. “By the middle of this decade, under certain conditions, they will take over the task of driving completely at both high and low speeds.” 

Ragunathan Rajkumar, a computer science professor who is leading a Carnegie Mellon University automated driving research project, told the Times that new technology like collision avoidance, driver distraction alert, traffic sign detection and others is a bridge. “’The driver is still in control. But if the driver is not doing the right thing, the technology takes over.’”

Four manufacturers have announced that as soon as this year they will begin offering models that will come with sensors and software to allow the car to drive itself in heavy traffic, notes the Times. California and Nevada have already passed laws making it legal to operate self-driving cars as long as a human being is inside.   

There is little question that more safety features mean, well, more safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently reported that electronic stability control, which automatically detects the loss of traction, saved 2,202 lives between 2008 and 2010. 

But could more safety features also correlate to less vigilance on the road, as drivers are lulled into the comforting idea that their car will help them? As the Times reports, “The safety systems are a practical reaction to the modern reality of drivers who would rather talk on the phone and send text messages than concentrate on the road ahead and drive.” Rajkumar told the Times that full autonomy will become “practical, inevitable and necessary,” and joked that he would welcome an automated car for his 30-minute commute, so that he could take a nap. 

Do you think that new strides in safety will make people less responsible for their actions on the road? And with progressively more automated cars, will it even matter? Weigh in.