Safe. Safer. Dead.
A short rant about safety features going too far
So this piece was inspired initially by an amazing bit of HUD tech recently presented by Panasonic Automotive., which to a caveman/luddite/lover of unassisted driving pleasure like myself, immediately triggered a knee jerk response in protest! But my loud noises do have some common sense merit, so bear with me.
Volvo has also recently advertised a driver monitoring and response system which watches your unworthy, overworked, mortal face for any signs of weakness (tiredness, alcohol use, distraction) and intervenes accordingly. Now surely there is no faster way to put a driver into a panicked state of unpredictability than to whisk control out from under them like a rag for reasons which are not immediately and clearly apparent to the driver. Because your expression while driving is not a conscious act, an intervention (even if its a simple beeping) would undoubtedly create a moment of confusion before you look at the dash to see what the hell happened. Also, in cars I've driven with automatic braking and distance assist features, even when in this case the reason for intervention is clear, I've found them unnerving from the first instance. You drive along afterwards, unsure whether your car will decide to slam on the brakes in crowded traffic and deposit the distracted mom behind you and her crossover into your rear seats. Perhaps I just have trust issues...
Metrics like "tiredness" or "distraction" are utterly impossible to measure with any accuracy or objectivity (as a skilled driver waving at a friend or a police officer using his radio would definitely trigger an intervention while these acts are not necessarily unsafe). Like legendary comedian Steve Hughes said, "What? Targeting tired drivers? That's everyone coming home from work!" So now on to Panasonic's system.
My first impression from watching the demo was that if your eyes are so bad that you need some tech to highlight a trashcan thrown into the road or a cyclist in some fluorescent color, then maybe don't give driving a go? The risk is also that your vision is tunneled to the front while watching warnings and assists that you're unaware of the rest of your surroundings, like the sides and rear (but I'm not too worried about that cause your mirrors scream at you too nowadays...). It's completely unnecessary to have a system which highlights the height of the tunnel you're entering, while obstructing your field of view, when there's a big yellow sign that's been there since 1965 telling you exactly the same thing! And what if your HUD conflicts with what the road signs say?
I have no doubt that smart people will make these things foolproof and then convince oppressive, nannying governments and safety ratings agencies to mandate them, so that they'll then be able to sell them to carmakers and turn a profit. However, I feel there's a simpler solution: spend more time teaching people to drive properly! I base this opinion on no scientific evidence and simply the fact that teaching works, and it generates no profit for tech companies. Disagree with me below.