Are car safety systems dulling our ability?
The advancement of safety technology for vehicles has come in leaps and bounds over decades, but is it at a cost?
Technology is a wondrous, amazing, and utterly daft thing. The advancement of gadgetry over years can be exciting in its ability, and equally frustrating in its use. It can perform amazing tricks and deliver life-enriching results, but if it's not trained properly, results can be bloody annoying.
If you could permit me a moment to regale you with a story. In 2009, my wife and I were in London. We were both avid fans of a certain automotive TV show, and as luck would have it, one of the show's hosts was going to be doing a book signing in Selfridges. Upon reviewing the queue to see James May, my wife and I decided that, rather than hop on the rear of the line, wait thirty minutes, and only have a fleeting and ultimately forgettable exchange with the man, we'd instead loiter up front, but behind the press pack.
Eventually May appeared, and the press did their thing of snapping photos and calling for him to obey their commands. I was at the rear of the horde, behind the rope. I did, however, have a small window of view to the man, and I rattled off some snaps.
At that point, James May turned to face me and my pitiful entry-level SLR Canon. He held up his book and stared right down the barrel of my tourist lens. I pressed the button on my camera over and over, trying to get a shot in that brief window that May had afforded me his gaze.
And this was the best I got.
James May. Possibly.
Thank you, technology. You wondrous and incompetent twerp.
The auto-focus on my lens had decided that I was not interested in the celebrity before me, but that I should have been far more interested in some professional's hand and the back of some poor sod's head. It would be remiss of me to not point out that the camera's user - ie me - had ultimately failed to properly frame the shot, and that the camera was only doing what it was told.
So, while I am fond of technology, I am more than aware of its many and varied shortcomings.
Some time ago I remember chatting with an automotive engineer. Back in those days, Electronic Stability Programs were just rolling out, and much ballyhoo was made over their ability to save cars that were yawing out of control. This particular engineer remarked that, when performing a U-turn, he would turn full lock, plant the foot and, "Let the ESP sort it out."
I didn't really ask him if he were telling the truth, or if he was just being a bit of a lad, but even then the remark made my head snap a little. A blind faith in a car's technology - particularly a technology that was still in its infancy at the time - seemed like a reckless idea, and one that could lead to further issues. What if the systems were to fail, and his antics resulted in the car ploughing into an embankment? What if the car did the automotive equivalent to my camera as per the above photo?
Oh well, that was the risk he was willing to run. I am not that brave.
Image courtesy of Milan De Clercq (@mdc_photography2000) on Unsplash
To a degree, we all put blind faith in the systems of our cars. Brakes can fail, yet many of us careen down hills with the careless enthusiasm of a rollercoaster rider. Seat rail ratchets can also fail, but we trust them to hold us in our fixed position in the event of heavy braking. But, in the example of Emergency Autonomous Braking, to blindly trust in the technology is to surrender a degree of control in a scenario where we really should be a more active participant.
To state that these technologies should serve to complement our ability, and not be a substitute for it, seems like an obvious observation, and I am more than aware that I may be preaching to the choir here.
I am no neuroscientist, but I worry that any surrendering too much of my own responsibility with driving will, over time, dull what possible brain pathways remain in my skull. If I trust too much in technology, will it rust my ability to react to my car's movements in the event of a emergency situation?
How many people out there carry an actual cavalier attitude toward this technology, as per the engineer I spoke with? Are we creating over-confidence by not teaching that these systems are meant to complement your own responsibilities as a driver, rather than assuming they're offering an infallible layer of protection?
I'd rather buy the tech as a backup to my ability. If my mind assumes that the technology isn't there, then it's only activated because of a momentary, but hopefully rare lapse, rather than a habitual lapse that needs the car to save me from.
So, while I may call technology a twerp, it's better than having the twerp being coached into me.