We’re living in an amazing time of automotive innovation, from LED headlights to self-parking systems (where was that when I had to take my driving test?)
Ever since General Motor’s Futurama Exhibit at the 1962 World’s Fair in Queens, the “holy grail” of automotive advancement has been the driverless car. The promise was that someday you would be able to get in your car and then watch TV or even sleep as the car drove you to your destination, all by itself.
That dream is being realized right now as driverless Google cars are being tested on public roads around the country and many car makers offer semi-autonomous steering systems found in models like the Acura TLX, Infiniti Q50, Subaru Legacy, Chrysler 200 and Tesla S.
The dream turned into a nightmare recently for Joshua D. Brown, a 40-year old technology company owner from Canton, Ohio, who died in his Tesla Model S while driving with the “Autopilot” system activated.
He was killed in Florida when the car’s Autopilot cameras failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn’t automatically activate the brakes. Mr. Brown didn’t take control and brake, either, and there are some reports that he was watching a movie in the car at the time.
In theory, automated cars will eliminate human errors that are responsible for an estimated 94 percent of traffic deaths. With more than 35,000 people killed on the nation’s roads last year, the benefits could be huge. But here’s what I would like you to remember about these new driverless systems — you don’t want to be a guinea pig for the automakers until the technology has been proven for years and all the bugs have been ironed out.
You may have collision avoidance or active braking systems in your car right now, but there’s still nothing more important than a driver with both hands on the wheel who is watching the road. Even cruise control, which has been in cars for years, isn’t fail safe. For example, you don’t want to use cruise control during rain, snow, or ice as you could lose control if the system applies too much throttle and spins the tires. Auto-driving technology will certainly become safer as it matures. Until then, it’s up to you to maintain control of your vehicle and stay safe!