There is considerable activity going on today to develop “self-driving” cars.
The theory is that these cars will improve reliability and safety while reducing accidents, injuries and deaths.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show that human error is the “critical reason” for all but about 6 percent of car crashes.
Raj Nair, Ford Motor Co. executive vice-president, says, “If you look at it in terms of fatal accidents and miles driven, humans are actually very reliable machines. We need to create an even more reliable machine.”
The car companies are currently trying to make self-driving cars safer than human-driven cars and are finding a lot of challenges in solving all the possible situations that might arise.
I would like to propose an alternative focus in improving automobile safety. Since the human driver is already “a very reliable machine,” let’s focus on using our technology to make the driver even more reliable.
I suggest using the sensor technology to focus more on the activity inside the car, rather than the activity on the road outside and around the car. If the technology can be used to assist the driver in becoming a “more reliable driving machine,” it might be possible to eliminate or reduce the 94 percent of crashes caused by human error. This would seem to be more fertile ground in improving overall safety than trying to work on the 6 percent not caused by human error.
The sensors could be used to sense what the driver and passengers are doing, or not doing.
If the driver’s eyes are not on the road, but wandering to the radio, the activity in the back seat, the GPS unit, or heaven forbid the cell phone, the sensors could trigger an audible warning followed by an automatic safe reduction of speed and use of the external sensors to find a safe spot to pull the car off the road and stop.
If there is too much distracting activity in the car, the car should “assist the driver” in becoming a “more reliable driving machine.”
Work can continue on truly self-driving cars. But in the meantime, let’s focus on using our technology to improve our drivers, even if we have to force them to pay attention.
Bob Frohardt, Ponte Vedra Beach