As more and more new technology finds its way into cars, and the chance of autonomous driving creeps nearer and nearer, are we in danger of becoming too reliant on technology to drive our cars? And as safety features grow in number to protect us as we drive, especially when it comes to accident avoidance, as the safety aspect decreases, are we in danger of forgetting how to actually do some of the manoeuvres that are so important when it comes to mobility in cars?
And could we actually forget how to drive?
One of the things that prompted this blog article is the idea that, as we become more and more reliant on improved technology, we lose touch with how to do something without it.
Before mobile phones, you could remember phone numbers so that, if needed, you could contact someone from memory. Think now how many phone numbers you can remember off the top of your head. Difficult, isn't it?
And if you want to find something out, pre-Google days, you used to have to go to a library and look in a book. (For younger readers, a book is a lot of pages with words on that is bound together with a cover!) Now it's a quick click, and the information is at your fingertips. Literally!
It may seem like I am harking back to the 'good' old days, and bemoaning technological advances, but nothing could be further from the truth. Standing still never did anybody any good when it comes to life, and both mobile phones and Google are godsends when it comes to day-to-day use. But we mustn't lose touch with what was there before and deleting all memory of it.
You may wonder what all this has to do with cars, but if you take a look at some of the technology that is now being used in cars, we are in danger of, for example, forgetting how to park safely and accident-free.
Hands-free parking now does it all for us, and warning noises allow us to get close to the edge in parking spaces. There's even a screen to show you how you are doing with regards to the space.
As good as this technology is, and as helpful, is there not a danger that we will all begin to rely on it so much that we forget how to park without it?
We already rely on our Sat Navs and phones to show us where to go, rather than use a map or an A-Z. And although it is safer than taking our eyes off the road to check paper-based directions, we are becoming slaves to satellites.
And infotainment systems that are now available in so many vehicles, increasing in standard installation on new cars, are allowing us to continue our social world when driving instead of breaking away from it in a haven of peaceful ignorance when we drive.
There is no escape from it. In Las Vegas, at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, there was more and more future technology on show to allow people to continue their lives as they drive.
But in a new study of 1,000 UK motorists by Continental Tyres is part of its Vision Zero, a third of motorists said that the greater illegal use of mobile phones has reduced road safety, and another 26% per cent said that they believed that any safety benefits created by automation were cancelled out by drivers using smart phones.
Continental Tyres’ safety expert Mark Griffiths said: “Our latest research has identified a real tension between the present and future technologies and our use of mobile devices. There is a concerning race between the technologies – we are creating solutions to make us safer, yet motorists are jeopardising road safety by struggling to be disconnected.”
Should cars be a safe haven away from being contacted, or are we all so reliant on being contactable at all times that we need that constant social interaction?
Mark Griffiths continued: “When considering what automotive systems should be included in our vehicles to improve safety, the behaviour of motorists has to be taken into account. Though, it raises questions on whether motorists should be responsible for their own bad behaviour or the extent of which technology needs to save us from ourselves.”
Continental Tyres opinion was backed up by Road safety charity IAM RoadSmart who renewed its calls for car makers and smartphone manufacturers to work with the government to develop a technological solution to distracted drivers – saying that simply hoping that drivers will ‘do the right thing’ is not enough - just as Department of Transport Ministers met with mobile phone manufacturers to look at proposals to tackle the growing issue of people interacting with their smartphones at the wheel.
Already we know that anyone caught using a hand-held mobile phone while at the wheel of a car will be fined £200 and receive six points on their licence, but that doesn't stop them interacting with infotainment systems.
Used as plus points (quite rightly) in new car standard and optional specifications, there is a plethora of safety features and driver assistance available to drivers.
Active Lane Assist, Distance Warning Alerts, Cross Traffic Assist, Exit Warning System, Collision Avoidance Assist, Turn Assist, Automatic Emergency Braking, Park Assist, Lane Departure Assist, Hill Start Assist and Traffic Sign Recognition are just some of the features on offer to a driver. Warning lights and sounds tell you when danger is approaching, or a collision is imminent.
But it should be highlighted that the important word in most of these features is ASSIST. It is not acceptable to rely solely on the technology to keep you safe. You still have to play your part in all this. As Mark Griffiths says: “We believe that motorists need to always think of safety, regardless of what fantastic technological solutions on the market there may be to help. Any safety device, feature or fitting should complement the safe and responsible behaviour of the driver, though the context of consumer behaviour is vital.
“[There is] a clear need for manufacturers to educate consumers on the benefits of automotive technology to help them to realise the potential for safety that evidently exists as well as help to build trust.”
It's all well and good having these technologies, but relying on them 100% will cause more accidents than it prevents, with drivers finding other things to do rather than concentrate on the road and other drivers' behaviour - otherwise known as Distracted Driving. And although this term is normally associated with mobile phone use, it can also be connected, as technology continually improves, with car assistance features - especially when it comes to the talk of autonomous cars.
Without going into the full ins and outs of Automated Cars - which we will do in a later blog - there are obviously a lot of pluses and minuses that can be found the harder you look, depending on which side of the Autonomy Fence you sit.
There's the dangers that can be found with regards to hacking, with 40% of drivers questioned in Continental Tyres research concerned about autonomous vehicles being hacked - an 11% increase from the 2015 study.
And you don't even want to get involved in thinking about legal wrangles that could occur when deciding blame when it comes to accidents. Is it the driver's fault, the fault of the technology manufacturer, the car manufacturer or the supplier of any signals to the car?
But then there is the joy of driving, safe in the knowledge that the car is taking the strain away from you. Sitting back, relaxing, as the car takes you where you want to go safely and securely.
In time, you maybe will not even have to drive. Ever. And the knowledge involved in driving may disappear like that first home phone number you had, into the mists of time.
But for now, let's make sure that we use technology in the right way at the right time in the right place.