Monday, March 24, 2008

Too much safety can be a bad thing.

I believe there is such a thing as too much safety. A lot of clever people in white overcoats spend a lot of time trying to explain why it is that people drive badly.

They will blame environmental factors, roadside furniture and the proximity of hedgehogs to the roadside.

In reality it can be traced back to a single element - super-safe vehicles. Drivers are now surrounded by airbags, pre-tensioning seatbelts and crumple zones. Double-glazing and great soundproofing serve to isolate us from road noise, just as drive-by-wire, brake-by-wire and electric power steering serve to isolate us from the feel of the car and what it's doing. Pre-emptive radar-controlled ABS brakes are designed to remove the responsibility of paying attention to the road ahead just as traction control, anti-slip, ride-levelling are designed to save us from greasy road surfaces and ham-fisted cornering. Backup sensors and cameras are there to save us having to turn around and actually look what's behind us, instead giving us more technology to blame when we reverse into lamp posts and over small children.

No longer do drivers have to be trained to understand how their manipulation of the controls affects the dynamics of the car. Instead it's turning into an instant gratification, point-and-squirt world.

The result is that drivers are lulled into the belief that no matter how badly they screw up, their car will save them. In America, On-Star will even call for help after you've caused the accident so now even if you are injured, the car will call for help for you whilst you unconsciously bleed to death. Coupled with the cosseting seats, the sat-nav, the onboard audio and video entertainment systems and the multitude of other distractions, is it any surprise the standard of driving is plummeting?

Oh and cellphones of course. I bet 90% of accidents nowadays happen when one driver has a cellphone clamped to their ear, but that's a topic for a different day.


Arief Sulaiman said...

It's sad to see more people let technology take over their responsibility.

Nick said...

I've been driving for almost 2 years now, so only drive an old Vauxhall Corsa (1996). It has no power steering, no ABS and is even without electric windows... but I love it. You can throw it around like a go-kart if you want or sit on the motorway for hours quite happily (although it's admittedly not the most comfortable car for sitting in hour long traffic jams...)
I'd love a new car around about now, but I enjoy driving the car myself and not having some computer deciding how it should be driven. If I make a mistake then I have to react to it. That's just how I like it

Anonymous said...

Sorry but I have to disagree. Modern motors may make us more isolated from the possible dangers of driving but it won't necessarily make people worse drivers. That's an attitudinal / educational issue.
What I think the author is bemoaning here is the fact that he can't find new cars which are genuinely involving to drive and that is a different issue! :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comment above. People don't drive worse or more aggressively because they are in a car with airbags, pre-tensioning seat belts, and crumple zones.

However, electronic gadgets can distract the driver, and the isolated feel can give drivers a false sense of confidence.