Jan. 4th, 2012
By: Shaun de Jager
In the last couple decades, the number of crashes on our roads has gone up drastically whilst the number of fatalities each year has fallen. You could argue that the increases in collisions are directly related to an increase in the number of vehicles on our roads, which to a point is true. The number of fatalities though has fallen, simply because automotive manufacturers have made their products more…crashable. Billions of dollars are spent each year on research & development on both ‘passive’ safety and ‘active’ safety in passenger vehicles. Manufacturers realized a long time ago that their customers are horrible drivers and therefore they needed to develop technology to help drivers survive crashes (passive safety) and better yet, avoid crashes altogether (active safety). However, hardly anything has been spent on making drivers safer. The driver is by far the most important safety feature of any vehicle and also the worst; so why isn’t the driver focused on more?
Some examples of ‘passive’ safety would be seat belts, air bags, roll cages, door impact beams and crumple zones. All designed to help you survive a crash. Whereas ‘active’ safety is the technology built into vehicles to help you avoid a crash. Such items include ABS, disk brakes, traction control and stability control. However, if drivers on our roads were safer, more skilled, aware, and trained in advanced driving techniques, nothing else would be required. Ok…life happens and people make mistakes and inevitably crashes will still occur. Nobody is perfect and acquiring the skills of professional race car drivers would be a huge personal expense to people, especially considering the tough economic times in which we live. However, if you can afford a car, insurance, gas and maintenance…you can also afford to take an advanced driving course; most are under $500 and really is the best insurance you can buy (I’m sure your friends and family would say that your life is worth more than the cost of such a course).
My main objections to all the ‘active’ safety technology being put into cars these days, is that it’s providing a false sense of security to drivers. Drivers constantly hear how great all this stuff is and how it can handle any driving situation, which is simply not true. They are tools and only assist drivers when road conditions get bad & they are designed to compensate for when drivers make mistakes (like taking a corner too quickly or when encountering slippery conditions) but they don’t allow drivers to break the laws of physics and they will only assist you to a point. They also don’t allow you to realize what the road conditions are really like. In a sense, they disconnect you from ‘feeling’ the road. My other issue is that it’s sending a message to drivers that they can continue to be complacent while driving. This is especially true when it comes to some of the newer technology popping up in cars like ‘self-parking’ systems, ‘blind-spot’ warning systems, ‘lane departure warning’ systems and rear pointing cameras (to assist you when reversing). Wait a minute…these systems actually PROMOTE bad driving habits! Personally I find this rather counter productive and a step backward instead of forward.
All this technology is worth several thousand dollars of each car sold and more and more of these systems are being installed in cars as they are further developed. Perhaps some of this huge expense should be spent on developing the driver. If every new car sold included a free advanced driving course (a cost of less than $500), our roads would be significantly safer. It could also lead to reduced auto insurance costs, personal health insurance, medical expenses, and it would certainly reduce the costs to social health care (in countries where that is applicable).
It’s way better to have a skilled, safe driver in car with no safety technology, than a lousy driver in a good, safe car with all the safety technology…every time. Safer roads start with safer drivers. So let’s start focusing on improving the driver because its money well spent.