Too Much Automation On The Road = Too Many Automatons On The Road
Over recent years there has been a trend for manufacturers to load cars with automated features. Many of these can be useful, some can be lifesaving. With UK road safety stalled, the ABD advises drivers to be on the lookout for the pitfalls and to engage brains at all times regardless of other systems in use.
- Anti-lock brakes (ABS)
Now fitted as standard on all modern cars. Prevents the wheels from locking under heavy braking, enabling the driver to brake hard while maintaining the ability to steer.
The pitfall: Drivers should also be aware of the pedal feel when ABS operates. There is a vibration felt through the pedal that makes some drivers lift off in surprise. When emergency braking, full pressure must be maintained regardless of the pedal feel and any accompanying noises.
- Cruise control
Maintains a chosen speed, the driver can remove their foot from the accelerator.
The pitfall: Drivers can lose concentration, hazard recognition and anticipation may suffer, and drivers may react more slowly to an emergency. Many driving situations require constant minor changes of speed and a good driver continually adjusts their speed according to the nature of the road, the changing hazard density and the actions of other road users.
- Satellite Navigation
This is an invaluable driving aid when navigating unfamiliar roads.
The pitfall: Drivers need to be aware of the possibility of obstructing vision and should place a sat nav device where there is no loss of ability to assess the position of vehicle extremities. Glancing at the screen should carry no more risk than glancing at a road sign giving directions, if there was one.
- Automated speed control
This is the government's Holy Grail where all vehicles are controlled by GPS devices preventing them exceeding the speed limit.
The pitfall: If operational, not only may the limiter cut in at highly dangerous moments such as part way through an overtake facing oncoming traffic, but also drivers will stop using their own judgement to adjust speed to density of hazard and drive up to the limiter, foot to the floor, in the misguided belief that speed is the paramount safety consideration and that the satellite will save them and anyone in their path. This is an automation step too far and will produce more automatons.
- Traction control
This prevents power reaching the driven wheels and so helps to avoid a skid. As with ABS, this system has road safety benefits.
The pitfall: It can prevent drivers learning vital skills of car control that they may suddenly find out about if the system were to fail or they drive a car without such devices fitted.
- Speed camera detectors
Sadly now seen as vital even for many highly skilled drivers. These would not be necessary if limits were genuinely set at reasonable safe speeds for the road in question, as safe drivers who operate around the 85th percentile of speed would never find themselves exceeding safety-related limits and would not be criminalised for driving safely but illegally.
The pitfall: There isn't one. These devices can remove the very dangerous distraction of a preoccupation with over-zealous checking of the speedometer in response to over-zealous speed enforcement, allowing drivers to concentrate on hazard recognition and anticipation, adjusting speed to the road conditions continuously in a safe manner.
Too much automation, such as the external control of vehicle speed, means that drivers will not THINK! about the driving process.
Road users' brains are the best safety device on the road. Road users are an untapped reservoir of safety skills that can only be accessed via education and training. Officialdom interferes with this process at our peril.
Notes for Editors about the ABD