With all of the fuss about regulating self-driving cars one might think that automakers were planning on having them operate themselves without a driver in the cockpit. That would sort of defeat the purpose of the automobile. Wouldn’t it? The truth is that innovative safety features like mitigated braking, automatic cruise control, and lane departure warning/correction systems are designed to work in conjunction with human drivers to bring us into a safer driving existence. While these types of systems will not drive the automobile for you, they can provide needed help in alerting distracted drivers of potentially harmful circumstances.
Regardless of whether you drive five minutes each day or your commute averages several hours, the number one cause of automobile traffic fatality may surprise you. For many years drinking alcohol and driving was considered the scourge of the American highway. Many millions were killed in accidents that involved drivers under the influence on drugs and/or alcohol and it continues to be a problem today but would you believe that another killer has taken over the top spot for traffic fatalities? Cellular telephones are now the latest rage. The combination of calling, receiving calls, and text messaging has made our roads more dangerous than ever, but cell phones don’t take the top spot, either. The number one cause of traffic fatality in the U.S. is simple driver distraction. A fallen object, an innocent workday meal, or a misbehaving child can steal a driver’s attention (if only for an instant) and cause a fatal traffic accident.
There are currently no automakers that recommend allowing their vehicle to operate independent of the human driver. Although many of the safety features which are earning automobiles the title of “self-driving” or “driverless” have been in use on various automobiles since 2005, we have not yet reached the point that a vehicle can operate independent of a human being. From a public safety standpoint, we likely never will. I am not aware of any automaker that is developing any such technology. In fact, they all recommend that an alert and licensed driver maintain control of the vehicle at all times.
Having said that, allow me to point out how these devices will make driving safer.
The typical American works longer hours than ever before. This is evident if you consider the second leading cause of traffic fatalities; tired drivers going to sleep behind the wheel. If we examine the lane departure warning and correction system (LDWCS), and apply characteristics of a typical LDWCS to the scenario of a sleeping driver we can begin to understand. The typical LDWCS utilizes a camera positioned in the center of the windshield as an electronic eye. The eye detects the white center lines that separate individual lanes. Once a pattern of white center lines is recognized the LDWCS computer monitors vehicle travel patterns to ensure that no inadvertent variation from the chosen lane occurs without the driver’s knowledge. If a lane variation is detected, without turn signal activation, the LDMCS will attempt to alert the driver by means of a visual and/or audio warning. Certain vehicles also utilize a vibration device embedded in the driver’s seat to alert the driver. If the driving pattern is sufficiently corrected, no further action will be taken by the LDWCS. However, if the vehicle continues on the unscheduled course the power steering system will provide enough torque to correct the path of the vehicle.
The LDWCS is only one of several cutting edge new methods of making driving safer. These systems do not fall asleep. They don’t drink, use cell phones, or become distracted, so yes these so-called “driverless cars” appear safer.