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High-tech Cars Replacing Driver Skill? 805

Nick writes "What happens when you take a bunch of average drivers, put them in a car with no high-tech systems like anti-lock brakes and traction control, and ask them to drive on a safety test track? 360-degree spins, of course. And not only do today's drivers need ABS and traction control to keep their cars under control, it also turns out most drivers can't even name the high tech safety systems that are continually saving their butts. And to make matters worse, carmakers plan to install automatic radar-based blind-spot checkers so motorists can avoid looking over their shoulders while changing lanes. Even geeks find some of these technologies scary, including Wired's Bruce Gain, who drove Mercedes' S-Class with automatic braking."
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High-tech Cars Replacing Driver Skill?

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  • who cares? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by crayz ( 1056 )
    I drove an '89 Celebrity with no ABS or anything other than power steering up until a year ago. You just need to know how to drive the car you're in, not some hypothetical automobile from 20 years ago
    • Re:who cares? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by appleLaserWriter ( 91994 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:17AM (#14452457)
      I care. I fully expect cars to drive themselves before I become senile enough to have the keys taken away from me.

      I consider myself an excellent driver, but recognize that relatively few people care about improving their driving skills. I would much rather they have access to gadgets that prevent them from smashing into me than not.

      It would be even better if I could step into my car with a latte, cell phone, and laptop, ask the car to take me to the airport, and read slashdot along the way. My guess is that it will happen within 20 years.
      • 1950 called (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:46AM (#14452550)
        It would be even better if I could step into my car with a latte, cell phone, and laptop, ask the car to take me to the airport, and read slashdot along the way. My guess is that it will happen within 20 years.

        1950 called. It wants its prediction back.
      • Re:who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by carl0ski ( 838038 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @06:07AM (#14452608) Journal
        the problem is that they can't indentify whats saving their life

        so when they buy or borrow another car that doesnt have tractional control power steering a fish finder
        they will be a danger to themselves and others

        • Re:who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by daviddennis ( 10926 ) <david@amazing.com> on Thursday January 12, 2006 @10:14AM (#14453698) Homepage
          Maybe this isn't so bad because if I buy a car, it's generally going to be newer than the one it replaces, and so it will have more gizmos, not fewer.

          Only enthusiasts are likely to drive BMWs like the one described in the article. I seem to remember the 3-series had a reputation in those days for being a fun to drive but tricky to handle car. These randomly selected drivers are likely to not know how to drive such a car properly, since they have never owned one.

          I thought traction control was still pretty exclusive to high-end cars. ABS, of course, is just about everywhere. I transitioned to a car with ABS but I must be among one of the few who can safely drive without it, because I very rarely feel it trigger, even when braking relatively hard.

          There may be psychological factors involved in this study that make it unduly alarmist. When you take drivers and unleash them on a track, I'm betting their competitive instincts override their caution. They know, after all, that if they did spin out, the track is designed to be safe under those conditions. So if the drivers were not told the point of the study, they might have thrown caution to the wind and behaved very differently from normal.

          A more interesting study (albiet a more boring one to conduct) would be to see how our accident rate has declined over the years with the gizmos coming into effect. Has anyone done something like that? Have accident rates declined thanks to the gizmos, or do they just offer a false sense of security?


      • Re:who cares? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by thogard ( 43403 )
        I've been in a car that could drive its self in along highway in Virginia. The car had radar, sonar to keep it from hitting things and it used differential GPS and fiber optic ring gyros to keep it where it needed to be. The car only knew about a few roads and they have all been driven several times. It couldn't deal with things like stop lights. The INS system alone cost somewhere in the order of $300,000.
        • Re:who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by RicktheBrick ( 588466 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @09:50AM (#14453474)
          GPS cost under a thousand dollars. How about a system that knows the speed limit everywhere and does not allow the automobile to exceed that limit? How about it knowing where every stop sign is and enforcing that stop too. How about having a wi-fi system in every automobile that will communicate it position, speed and direction of travel to every other automobile within 100 yards of it. Both automobile could change either direction or speed to avoid a collision. How about traffic lights transmitting their light cycle and current condition to all close automobiles so that they can adjust their speed to always hit the green light. When this system is mass produced and placed in every automobile it will probably cost less than air bags which for the vast majority of people are never used. I believe that this system would save thousand of more lives just by giving instructions on how to get to ones destination therefore allowing one to concentrate on the traffic rather than looking for another street or address.
          • Re:who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by AGMW ( 594303 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @10:10AM (#14453661) Homepage
            How about a system that knows the speed limit everywhere and does not allow the automobile to exceed that limit?

            Whilst I will agree that usually this would prevent accidents, there are occasions where I have needed to accelerate out of trouble. I would be pretty damn miffed if some speed limiter stopped me from being able to do so!

          • I agree with you. But I also know there are people around who buy expensive sporty cars and drive aggressively, because it's fun. For example, I've already met several people who complain about how their traction control doesn't let them spin the rear wheels in hard cornering. And that's relatively primitive automation compared to what you describe.

            The picture you sketch makes me see roads almost as a system of public transport. You punch in your destination, and with minimum input from you, you're driven

      • Re:who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by FirienFirien ( 857374 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @07:01AM (#14452776) Homepage
        That's called a 'taxi' ;-)

        However - the article can be paralleled with "Interface controls replacing user skill? Twenty standard computer users were shown to a seat in front of a vintage 22-year old Commodore. While all were competent with their newer systems, not a single one was able to control the early model."

        People learn to use the systems they have. Just as with development in computer systems the public - through assistive devices designed by others to reduce the complexity - have absolutely no need to know how to work machine code, or programming languages, or even scripting languages, the modern driver has assistive devices designed by others to reduce the complexity of operation. And, as the parent post puts so well, all the better if it stops them killing us.
      • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @07:32AM (#14452896) Journal
        "It would be even better if I could step into my car with a latte, cell phone, and laptop, ask the car to take me to the airport, and read slashdot along the way."

        Exactly what I want, public transport without the, errr, ummm, public.
      • Re:who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Thursday January 12, 2006 @08:31AM (#14453079)
        I consider myself an excellent driver, but recognize that relatively few people care about improving their driving skills.

        That is actually the problem. People consider themselves excellent drivers, even when they are not, because they think they are so good they are actually really bad. I always find that Bad Drivers tend to complain a lot and get angry at other people when they drive, because either they are driving to slow, or they cut them off even when there was plenty of room. Then you see them near/tailgate them, swerve in panic, and may other unsafe actions. They figure themselves to be excellent drivers so it has to be everyone else fault. I tend to see myself as an average driver, I realize when I make a mistake when I am driving (We all do, occasionally forgetting to really check the mirror and look to the side if there is blind spot, Getting slightly confused and run a Red Light, Misjudging the time on a yellow, Missed reading a Sign (Stop, 1 Way, etc), ), and I work to correct it the next time, Driving actually takes more brain power then people realize, because they have all the actions in mussel memory. But they tend to forget that they are drive a 1/2 Ton and Up Block of Steel at Speeds that we normally cant run at. Our minds are not Designed to process the world at 60mph, only 10-20mph.

        Note: I never met you so I don't know how you really drive, it is not personnel
        • Re:who cares? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by RESPAWN ( 153636 ) <caldwell@tulan[ ]umni.net ['eal' in gap]> on Thursday January 12, 2006 @11:18AM (#14454317) Homepage Journal
          I think some people tend to consider better than average car control or car recovery control to make them a good driver. Just being able to induce a car into a controlled slide or recover from one, doesn't make one a good driver. Aggression level and overall attentiveness come in to play a lot where driving is concerned. Overly aggressive drivers who may be able to avoid others, can sometimes tend to cause accidents themselves (they swoop in, cut somebody off who slams on their brakes, and unfortunately gets rearended by some dumbass 2 cars back who was tailgating).

          I'd like to think I'm slightly above average, but nothing great. I'm one of the few of my generation to actually take Driver's Ed. I've also taken a defensive driving course, as well as a general car control course, an autocross driving school (more of the same really), and I've raced in a fair share of autocrosses. I'm also one of those people who's always interested in improving their driving skills, and make it a habbit to try to pay more attention to what my car is doing -- feel its movements through the controls.

          That said, I would still only consider myself slightly better than average. You know what? I kind of like some of these driver aids. I love having ABS now. Yes, I can drive a car without ABS and learned how to brake at the threshold of tire lockup, but I love having it. It has saved me on at least one occasion where I had a driver pull out in front of me on a wet road. I've yet to drive a car with traction and/or yaw control in an environment where I could test the limits of those technologies, but I'm sure they work well too. I wouldn't want to race one of those cars, but that's the point really. These cars are designed for the road, and these technologies help people keep from having accidents.

          One last note. I think everybody should be forced to learn to drive stick on an underpowered car. It really forces you to think about your environment more. You have to pay attention to that hill coming up (Do I need to downshift to make it up?). You pay more attention to the vehicles around you at stop lights (Am I going to roll back into the car behind me?). The reason 90% of people give for driving automatics is that they are lazy and/or want to relax. That's just the problem with our driving society here in the US: they aren't paying enough fucking attention.
          • by Mateito ( 746185 )
            Aggression level and overall attentiveness come in to play a lot where driving is concerned.

            That's why I always smoke a couple of joints and snort a line of speed before pulling out of the driveway.

        • I think the concept of mussel memory is a great idea. Mussels multiply prodigiously, and often live in clusters. If we could somehow use those mussel colonies to store information...why, the possibilities are endless. Maybe we could finally learn to communicate to dolphins.
        • Re:who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by twifosp ( 532320 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @12:43PM (#14455161)
          I would have to agree.

          I could be classifed as an excellent high speed, high maneuverability driver. When compared to the average public. I autocross often and I have the autocross timeslips and best of days to prove that I know how to pilot my vehicle well. I can control my car at it's limits because I know almost exactly (you never know 100%) what it will do and what inputs are required to make it do what I want.

          That said, I still only consider myself and average driver on the highway. What I do out there on the track doesn't translate to the highway. Just like everyone I get bored in my car. I zone out to music. I don't pay enough attention. I get frusterated in traffic and probably make less than safe passes. I don't qualify that I'm allowed to do these things because I race cars on Sunday. No, I'm just kind of an inpatient asshole with a fast car. I'm not saying I'm a bad driver out there causing wrecks left and right. I'm just saying that I'm your average driver who doesn't think enough when out and about driving on the regular roads.

          Granted, if I got into a situation where braking or maneuvering skills came into play, that would obviously help me avoid a collision. However, that assumes I was paying enough attention to react and plan your maneuver properly. Given the amount of concentration I apply at the track and the amount of concentration I have zombiedriving down the interstate, my skills probably wouldn't help the least bit.

      • Re:who cares? (Score:3, Informative)

        Take the bus. Really. It's a little more inconvenient, but think about what you're doing for the environment.
    • Re:who cares? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Taimat ( 944976 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @10:18AM (#14453744)
      I agree - You need to know the car you drive.

      I've had 4 different cars on my life, want to know the easiest way to learn how they react? Snow covered parking lots! Go with a trusted friend in the passenger seat, drive around at 10 mph or so, left right turing, and ask them to pull the e-brake at times, and release to force a skid that you weren't expecting. It doesn't take long to learn how your car reacts. Do it alone even. I've just found that it's the easiest, and SAFEST way to learn what your vehicle will do with lose of traction.
  • by Samir Gupta ( 623651 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @04:35AM (#14452322) Homepage
    I work in the R&D division of a major Japanese video game corporation. Some members of my research group have been working with major Japanese automakers (whose identity I am not at liberty to discuss at the moment) to apply concepts learned in video game design to driving cars. Instead of a cumbersome set of multiple controls, we are experimenting with a single two-axis controller, one axis controlling acceleration and braking in the up-down direction, and the other controlling steering in the left-right direction. Gear shifting is mapped to the start and select buttons. We're experimenting with a number of control devices, from the Power Glove to GameCube controllers as input effectors.

    We believe that this research will lead to much more drivable and intuitively controllable autos, especially for a generation of drivers raised on video games, and will cause fewer accidents on the road, due to the intuitive nature of the control mechanisms and the ingrained neurological psycho-response actuations which have developed from extensive game playing. It will further open up driving to those who may not have all limbs working, but as long as one has thumb control, driving will be accessible to all. I look forward to seeing this coming revolution on the commericial market.
    • GM built a joystick controlled automatic Cadillac about 40 years ago. They found it awkward to drive and scrapped the project.
    • by Osty ( 16825 )

      we are experimenting with a single two-axis controller, one axis controlling acceleration and braking in the up-down direction, and the other controlling steering in the left-right direction.

      Ack! Please, no! I hate it when games put acceleration and braking on the same axis. Please don't do that to real cars. If I can't hit the brake and throttle at the same time, how am I supposed to heel-and-toe downshift (don't tell me to drive an automatic, or a sequential manual) or trail-brake (okay, not on pu

    • Horribly bad idea. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by raehl ( 609729 ) <raehl311@yahoo. c o m> on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:13AM (#14452447) Homepage
      One of the things that makes a steering wheel a good control input for a car is that in order to make large changes in what your car is doing, you have to make large changes in the control input. Want to floor the car? You have to STOMP the gas peddle. What to stop SUDDENLY? You have to STOMP the brake. Want to make a SHARP turn? You have to turn the wheel at least a half ref, often up to 2 revs for really sharp, and almost a quarter for a turn that will induce a skid at highway speed before you have a chance to correct it.

      There's also a reason your acceleration and braking are controlled by your feet - because your leg muscles are stronger than your thumb muscles. You can't have your acceleration/braking controlled by a non-resistive joystick, because it'd just be too easy to sneeze/drop your coffee/knock it with your elbow and have sudden acceleration or braking. You need pretty stiff resistence to prevent accidental input. Now can you imagine driving for an extend period of time using your thumb muscles instead of your leg muscles?

      Even on vehicles that have throttle controls (like planes and boats), the throttle is a separate input device, has a large range of motion, and the vehicle being controlled usually experiences INFREQUENT velocity changes.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        "You have to STOMP the gas peddle. What to stop SUDDENLY? You have to STOMP the brake. "

        No you don't. Its the mark of an experienced driver to be giving huge inputs for any reason.

        The amount of pressure needed to floor the gas is only slightly higher than that need to move forward a 1 MPH. Likewise, unless you're driving a huge 40 ton earthmover, braking force to lock the wheels is only slightly greater than the force necessary to gently stop the car.

        Since you seem to be inexperienced, let me point out a
    • massive stupidity (Score:4, Interesting)

      by NuShrike ( 561140 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:24AM (#14452474)
      You guys need to go back to school and research why joystick controls of the first cars were abandoned. It's something called IMMUNITY to G-Forces and vibration from a bumpy and rocky road as well as other situations. The game floor is VERY different from a real road ride. Then there's the aspects of having independent controls such as accelerator and brake. This is the same for bicycles and for them scooters for the handicapped.

      There's a reason why some rally cars have independent front/rear braking pedals. Sure that may be not an everyday example, but it's still more representative than trying to reinventing the controls from the unreality of video games.

      Unless you are flying/floating like a plane, it is pointless to try to reinvent the wheel with controls of such low resolution and fidelity controlled by sub-par limbs of coordination, the thumbs.

      The reason for accidents on the road happens to be more a direct result of poor driver competance than from poor controls. If you eliminate any driver that can't pass the B-license driver's test from Gran Turismo (1-4) at the level most drivers are subjected to in Europe or Japan, THEN can you start thinking about if the controls are an issue.

      Sometimes, people are just not meant to drive.
  • yeah, thats going to be real popular, untill there is a sensor malfunction and you take out the little old lady in the pinto stationwagon. Those would have to be out for a few years before, and open source, before Id even begin to trust them.
  • by Slackrat ( 128095 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @04:37AM (#14452328)
    Did drivers ever really have skills in the first place?
    • Long answer: Absolutely not. And this (high-tech cars compensating for the lack of driving skill) is GOOD, because the average driver can spin a car on a safety test car even if the car has ABS and stuff. Actually, I think that if cars ever become fully automated, Minority Report style, we will have a lot less car accidents (*), and we'll take a lot less time to commute.

      (*) And I'd take a bet that 99% of the car accidends would be caused by human failure (even if it's failure to properly maintain the vehicl
    • You sir, have hit the nail on the head. AFAIK, drivers 30 years ago were the same as they are today. 30 years ago, most people didn't take advanced driving courses, or even know that much about their cars. The article makes it sound as if most drivers used to be taught advanced driving skills but nowdays aren't. This is not the case. The systems in todays cars do nothing but increase the safety for both average and advanced drivers.
  • by Phariom ( 941580 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @04:39AM (#14452335)
    There are few automobiles out there (mainly SUVs) that now have systems installed to let you know if you are leaving the lane via a photo-sensor connected to an alarm inside the vehicle. After all, why should we expect drivers to keep their *!@?% car in their own lane without the aid of a computer? Here's an article [autoblog.com] that goes perfectly with the theme of this post.
    • >After all, why should we expect drivers to keep their *!@?% car in their own lane

      Are you being purposely dense or were you born an idiot? This system, just like other safety systems in the car, is made to prevent dangerous situations. The beeping, in fact, is to wake the driver up in case he falls asleep. It doesn't happen often, but it does, and the fact that this device can and will prevent accidents from happening is the whole point of the system and a reason good enough for it to exist. After all,
  • by lightyear4 ( 852813 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @04:40AM (#14452339)
    ..i LIKE to drive. Sometimes helpful systems that assume control take all the fun out of things.
    • It's dull downtime.

      The more automatic, the better. My ideal car is where I hop in, say "take me to work" (or wherever), then I'm free to do whatever till we get there, at which point there's a pleasant "ding" sound, I look up, and see that I'm parked in the best available spot at my destination.

      Ah, bliss...
      • by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:23AM (#14452473)
        There's a system available that allows you to do that now - it's called a chaffeur. I believe the "ding" sound is an optional extra, though.
      • You are absolutely right.
        In the 20 minutes I take to commute, I could be reading something, /.ing, etc.
        In the 4 hours that takes to go to granny, I could be playing with my 7yo son, or tending my newborn daughter, or mellowing with the wife, or even taking a nap... instead of ducking trucks and potholes (*).

        (*) Down here, there are practically ZERO cargo/passenger trains. As a result, and due to the fact that we are an enourmous country (bigger than continental USofA), all interstate cargo and passenger tra
    • Well I think peoples skills are dependent on where they learn to drive. Here in Denmark it's mandatory to pass a "glatføre kursus" (a course on how to drive under slippery circumstances).
      The cars used have their ABS and tracktion control disabled, so most new drivers here should know how to handle the car.

    • I guess that you didn't read the article, since it's talking about how modern cars, that are are already on the market, with features that people normally use, are making people worse drivers.

      One of the comments on the actual article was that it was most likely that the people driving just didn't know how to drive RWD cars, which are a bit different to drive.

      So, if anti-lock brakes, power-steering, automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive bother you, then, yes, I can direct you to modern cars that don't
  • by aluminumcube ( 542280 ) * <greg@NOspAM.elysion.com> on Thursday January 12, 2006 @04:40AM (#14452340)
    This "study" is big-time BS for the simple reason that the typical road-going driver has NEVER been able to pilot a vehicle safely through these sorts of dog-n-pony show tests which is why all of these technologies got invented in the first place.

    Seriously, the people doing this study actually think that your typical driver facing a panic situation somehow had the foresight to remember some verbal instruction back from a high school driver's ed class about "Cadence Breaking" before ABS was a standard feature? Or that drivers from as little as 10 years ago had the sort of skid-pad training required to drill in the muscle memory and experience necessary to control a car in an understeer/overseer situation? No way; it was the inability for the typical driver to control a vehicle in these circumstances that led to hundreds of millions of dollars of automotive industry investment in these technologies.

    I see what the study is getting at and it is a point that any rational person will agree with; drivers need better skill training. Telling people which way to move the wheel in a spin or how to massage the break pedal out of a textbook (or even on a video) is a useless substitute to making a student actually experience car control and build the muscle memory actually required to apply those skills in a high stress situation. At the same time, rational people also realize that nobody will ever invest the billions of dollars necessary in the sort of meaningful driver education on a skidpad and through static exercises.

    Given our inability (through unwillingness of lack of funds) to train drivers, I believe that the technologies we've put on the typical passenger car are pretty amazing.

    At the same time, the biggest contributing factor to accidents is simply the fact that people don't pay very much attention. Even with all of the idiot drivers on the road and the noted lack of car control skill, the overwhelming majority of accidents are totally avoidable. Unfortunatly, doing so requires the typical driver to have situational awareness above that of a rock...
    • Given our inability (through unwillingness of lack of funds) to train drivers, I believe that the technologies we've put on the typical passenger car are pretty amazing.

      You know, the training is there if you want it. Way back when I did my driver training, I took a course at Young Drivers of Canada. This driver's ed program cost no less than four times what the high-school provided course did, but it gave me:

      • more total time in the car
      • all time in the car was one-on-one with an instructor; no one
    • If you actually go to the real article instead of the slashdot-style blurb that slashdot linked to for some reason, you'll find that the study had people attempt to avoid a stopped car and drive "as fast as they were comfortable" through some cones. Surely drivers ought to be able to avoid traffic (especially if they're driving in California on the highway, where this seems to happen every day), and they should be able to find some safe speed to drive around cones. They did perfectly fine when driving their
  • by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @04:46AM (#14452357) Homepage
    People learn the skills appropriate for their lives. Do I know how to castrate a bull or build a replacement wooden wheel for my Conestoga wagon? No, because I'm not a settler living in the early 1800's.

    Why not an article that asks the same questions about medical technology? Does the fact that we have made advancements in heart repair, diagnostics, medicines and more somehow indicate that people today are weaker or dumber than those of ten years ago?

    Correlation != Causation, yet that seems to be what this article is obliquely suggesting.

    If you buy their premise, then go ask some pirates about global warming, they have strong opinions regarding its affect on their trade.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 12, 2006 @04:47AM (#14452360)
    High-tech planes replacing pilot skills
    High-tech seat belts replacing stuntman skills
    High-tech calculators replacing math skills
    High-tech screwdrivers replacing screwing your freaking wrist to death skills
    High-tech phones replacing screaming really loud skills
    High-tech shovels replace digging dirt with your fingers skills
    High-tech whining replaces err.... wait... no people are as good at that as ever
  • I've been driving under my wife's supervision for two years, have recently taken some lessons before I take my test (finally), and moving to a 'modern' car has been a nightmare. Everything is controlled, or powered, and it's taken some time to master it after driving a 'normal' car for so long.

    On the plus side, I've been told I drive better than most people who've passed their test....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 12, 2006 @04:53AM (#14452383)
    I need a "get the &#^$ out of my way" button that works on the self-absorbed asshole yapping on his cellphone while driving his enormous SUV 52 in the 65 passing lane and backing up traffic for a mile behind him! I push the button, he moves his ass over and life goes on.

    Well, I guess a rocket launcher would do, too.
    • Well, I guess a rocket launcher would do, too.

      You'd need something with a very high temperature and low explosive yield, which would be difficult. Perhaps something like an autocannon with thermite-tipped rounds might be a better choice - you need to vaporise the target without leaving anything big or sharp enough to cause an obstruction to your vehicle, and without hitting you with the blast.

      On second thoughts, if you were carrying that much energy in your car then it might be simpler and easier to jus

  • Have any researchers considered carefully measuring the driving behaviour of cabbies, etc. (possibly by equipping cabs with gps/black box devices) and trying to distill useful information from this?

    If cabbies were bad drivers, you'd expect they would wreck more often than usual. If they were exceptionally good, you'd expect better driving, hence good data on which to base your automated driving models.

    To do this, you'd have to install monitoring equipment into a significant fraction of cabs in a give

  • Bullshit test... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:02AM (#14452413) Journal
    This test is pure bullshit. The only thing it proves is that people don't instantly adapt. If you had done the opposite, taking drivers accustomed to older cars and putting them in a new car with high-tech safety features, they'd fail all the same...

    ABS is a very good example. When it came out, it was causing a large number of accidents. People accustomed to standard brakes would continue their "cadence-braking" techniques on their new ABS-equiped vehicles, and would therefore be unable to stop.

    Even though people are accustomed to it now, I personally dislike ABS because of the trade-offs made... It is a system that assumes that less braking ability is okay, provided you are still able to steer. That make be true a lot of the time, but not always. When you have to slam on your brakes, but you still roll into an accident, you can thank ABS for that...

    • by Cederic ( 9623 )

      When some muppet pulled out in front of me in his 8 ton lorry doing approximately 60mph less than me on Tuesday, I was exceedingly glad I had ABS.

      95 to 35 without skidding. Without loss of control. Without going sideways into the next lane, or the central barrier. Without hitting the idiot in front. In just over 2 seconds.

      Sure, if I hadn't got ABS I'd have been able to do a lot to both avoid and control the skid. But I would have skid. I was losing too much speed too fast for me not to.

      Modern cars stop in e
    • by DCheesi ( 150068 )
      Agreed. This was really a test of how well people drive in their own cars vs. an unfamiliar one. Just adding a modern 'control' car would have helped their credibility somewhat. Even then, it wouldn't prove that modern drivers are less skilled, only that their skills are fine-tuned for dealing with the modern systems.

      As it is, it's a rather pointless excercise (other than to point out the dangers of loaning your car to someone ;)
  • What happens when you take a bunch of average drivers, put them in a car with no high-tech systems like anti-lock brakes and traction control, and ask them to drive on a safety test track? 360-degree spins [CC], of course. And not only do today's drivers need ABS and traction control to keep their cars under control, it also turns out most drivers can't even name the high tech safety systems that are continually saving their butts.

    In other news, a typical teenager can neither properly operate nor name the c
    • In other news, a typical teenager can neither properly operate nor name the components in a horse and buggy.

      That's unfair. Most teenagers could name the horse. Probably something like "Bob" or "George".
  • by batkiwi ( 137781 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:06AM (#14452423)
    What does this prove? See subject for an easy analogy.

    My fun/backup car is a 1977 honda civic, complete with manual choke. It takes an act of god to start it, but I have JUST the nack to get it every time. Most people getting into the car wouldn't have any idea what a manual choke is.

    Does this mean that anyone who can't start it is not skilled at starting modern day cars? ... ...

    Ask your typicall 747 pilot to jump into a spitfire and fly 500km.

    You see where I'm going. It's like programmers bitching about no one knowing assembler any more, when no one apart from serious system optimizers (or race car drivers....) need to know it.
    • Ask your typicall 747 pilot to jump into a spitfire and fly 500km.

      Not a good analogy. Most 747 pilots started out on light aircraft before moving up to boring planes. It only took me about an hour or two of flight time between getting in the pilot's seat (of any plane) for the first time and flying aerobatics in something with handling characteristics similar to a spitfire (smaller engine, and a bit more stable, but not far off), and I wasn't particularly unusual in this. Now, expecting a 747 pilot to

    • Things I own that have a manual choke:
      Riding mower
      Weed Whacker ...that's about it

      I guess your 1977 Honda is a bit like my riding tractor. Does it have a turtle and a rabbit to represent how fast you're going?
  • by Chicane-UK ( 455253 ) <.moc.dlrowltn. .ta. .ku-enacihc.> on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:06AM (#14452426) Homepage
    Reminds me of this story [pistonheads.com] I read about a month or two back - Mercedes took three shiny new S-Class's with this automatic braking system to a facility to demonstrate how well it worked for a german auto magazine. So they filled this facility with fake fog, sent a test driver down into the fog and lo and behold he ploughed into the back of one of the other S classes.

    It was a bit of an embarassment and for some reason the test driver ended up losing his job despite it being nothing to do with him. Still shows that sometimes these pieces of technology do have a way to go before they work properly.
  • by ayjay29 ( 144994 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:10AM (#14452434)

    The good ole' BBC has done some interesting comparisons involving Automobiles, which the Google heads have kindly made available on line:p>

    Old vs New is here [google.com].

    But my favorate by far is Play Station vs Real Life here [google.com].

    • by DG ( 989 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @09:45AM (#14453442) Homepage Journal
      Actually, as a real race car driver, I've used GT4 (and many other driving programs) to help practice for racing. Running a real racecar is very expensive in terms of $ per min of seat time, where a Playstation is pretty cheap.

      Part of it is that I have the controls set up to replicate the race car as much as possible - that means a wheel and pedals, similar seating position, etc.

      Playstation practice is really good training, especially the license tests. If you can get Gold on everything, you're doing well.

      But like the show pointed out (Top Gear rocks BTW) the Playstation doesn't tell the whole story. It is very good for teaching line, hand/eye co-ordination, and agression. It does less well for teaching the sensation of keeping a car balanced right on the limit. With modern race tires, it's not unusual to pull 1.7G transients on concrete without aero. There's just no way for a game console to replicate that. The consoles also have trouble conveying elevation change and road camber (probably because you feel that more than you see it) The Nurburgring in person is *far* more intimidating than in GT4.

      But if you understand the limitations, it makes a good training tool.

      As far as ABS goes, my racecar has ABS, but its primary purpose is to keep the tires round. In testing, we found that driver modulation beat the ABS in terms of stopping distances (race tires and dry pavement) On wet pavement, same deal, but it was much harder for the driver to walk the line between "I've got it" and "it's got me". Part of the problem is the difficulty in an enclosed car of telling when the wheels are locked. With the ABS on, you could transgress the braking limit and the tires would stay round and the car would still stop.

      For me, ABS has been an ass saver, but not a performance increasing device per sae (ie, I don't just mash the brakes and let the ABS do all the work - that's slow)

  • by threaded ( 89367 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:12AM (#14452439) Homepage
    Denmark has the worst drivers in the world. If it wasn't for all these fancy toys and the taxes making sure most vehicles only have tiny engines it would be utter carnage out there.

    I cycle 50+ km a day and on my way to and from work I pass the wreckage of at least one accident in either direction. i.e. I see on average more than one accident every 25km.

    Can anyone beat that?

    (P.S. For the Danish readers the journey is along Roskildevej, right at Radhusplassen and over the swing bridge)
    (P.P.S. I only notice so much as they appear to dump the wrecked cars on that bit of road I have the temerity to try and cycle along.)
    (P.P.P.S. I do wish they would properly clean up all the glass and other rubbish afterwards as well.)
  • by Quirk ( 36086 )

    Engineers can work technological wonders to mitigate against accidents and protect passengers in accidents, but the fact remains the majority of people freeze in an emergency situation or freak out. Those who can keep their heads in emergency situations expose themselves to the training and experience that will allow them to survive, perhaps in spite of the engineering.

  • I would be interested if my assumption is true, and that is the more you automate the car into preventing the driver from losing control the more likely that driver will eventually pay so little attention to their driving that when they do ultimately push the car too far the result will be catastrophic.

    The less drivers need to think about the fact they are in control of a couple of tonnes of metal adhering to the whims of inertia the less attention they'll pay to that fact. When this innatentive Michael
  • by Lando ( 9348 ) <lando2+slash@gmail. c o m> on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:24AM (#14452477) Homepage Journal
    Well, say what you will, I like having power steering and power breaks. I could do without the automatic transmission, but apparently many cars no longer come with "standard" transmissions.

        The ability to slow down for traffic in front of the vehicle would be appreciated as well. I have been in two accidents where the driver of the vehicle following did not pay attention and slammed into someone that had stopped. A system that helped prevent this from happening would have saved time and effort on my part, especially since the insurance payments are never really enough to cover your expenses.

          When driving I also worry about my blind spots quite often. I now drive a minivan and it's difficult to see small cars that are traveling in my blind spot... As a motorcyclist I often have people pull into my lane and have to keep a constant eye out to prevent injury.

          So nebulus comments about how no one needs traction control outside of racetracks, attributing new driver skills to skills picked up in video games and talking about how if you took away modern technology like anti-lock breaks etc modern drivers would have more accidents... Well, I'm sorry wasn't that why the new systems were added in the first place? To make driving safer....

    Also, I'm highly doubtful that locking the brakes on dry pavement will stop you faster than anti-locking brakes. From my own personal experience it takes longer to stop and you have less control so it appears to me that this is just FUD.
  • Last winter I had an experience using ABS, and it seemed to me that it was knowing how and when to use ABS is a skill still sorely lacking in most drivers. You can read the entire quote [poconopcdoctor.com] on my blog, but here are the pertinent points...

    Today's commute was quite an experience, as the Poconos, as well as most of the Northeast United States, were graced with 12 or so inches of the white stuff - snow, in layman's terms.

    As I headed down the mountain, I spy a snowy white Range Rover, England's answer to the Hu

  • Nobody is exempt from the laws of physics. Even the morons in California, driving their BMW's, are subject to Newton's laws of inertia. No amount of ABS will save the situation, when the a$$hole's front bumper is a mere 15 feet from my rear bumper.

    A one-million-candlepower spotlight shining out my rear window, on the other hand, would tend to make people very smart very quickly.
  • by Max Nugget ( 581772 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:37AM (#14452525)
    I think much of what goes wrong in driving is the result of the increasing disconnect from reality that modern drivers face.

    When you're riding a bike, the danger of what can happen if you're not cautious is all too real. Same with skiing. Same with walking.

    Cars are another story entirely. It goes far beyond gadgetry like ABS, traction control, and the other modern technologies. It's far more fundamental than that.

    You're in an enclosed environment. The windows are up. You can't fully hear the sounds outside the car. When you're on the highway going 80 mph, you've got the windows up. You can't feel or hear the loud, howling, fierce, blistering wind, the loud, raw sound of the tires grinding down the pavement. The shrieks of cars and trucks passing you by. You hear and feel maybe 20% of that, with the windows rolled up. These are all danger cues, things to keep you on high alert, but you've blocked them out, enclosed in the false security of your vehicular cockpit, with comfortable reclining bucket seat, music and talk radio, comfort-maximizing air conditioning and heating, zero wind, etc.

    And then you've got those nice cars with the great suspension. No longer can you feel the all-too-real road beneath you. Now you don't even realize you just drove over a giant pothole at 40 mph.

    The car control schema itself is like a video game. One pressure-sensitive button to stop, another to go. A wheel to steer. Each of these controls, your low-effort movements are amplified 1000x to control the multi-ton vehicle you're sitting in. Tired of pressing the B button? No problem, flip on the cruise control.

    And most importantly, of course, is the need for speed! We love going 70, 80, 90 mph -- as fast as we can get away with. Why? Because we love to live in the moment, and that's ALL you feel when you're zooming along at 100 mph down an open road. You're steering a giant death machine at 100 mph...you don't have TIME to think about anything but the present.

    And this, "living in the moment," is dangerous for exactly the same reasons it's enjoyable: You're not thinking about the future. Not even the near future. Not even the next few minutes. You've all but completely blocked out all thoughts, all concerns of the potential consequences of your actions.
    • Great post! I commute from the Poconos to NYC occasionally (most time I take a bus), and the new mode of driving is definitely not the "one car length for each 10 MPH of speed" that I learned 30 years ago - it's NASCAR drafting!

      As a result, Route 80 is regularly littered with the wreck of those who found that the two feet between their front bumper and the other car's rear bumper does not provide sufficient reaction time to stomp the brakes when Bambi decides to nibble on that tasty center median grass (

  • This is scary. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stunt_penguin ( 906223 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @05:41AM (#14452535)
    Now people have argued that keeping a skill like driving a vehicle safely is no longer required as computers will be able to do it for us. But the required skill here- to be able to pilot a big hunk of metal, plastic and glass among other similar vehicles without anyone getting killed will still be a required skill for many years to come.

    I think the real question here is how much control of these machines can be safely handed over to the judgement of an automated system, and whether we'd be willing to accept human death caused by such a system.

    It's hard enough to accept death if it's human error or bravado that caused the accident. But when an error on your onboard computer means your car rams the back of a 7 seater and kills the two five year olds in the back seat, who do you blame?

    Now people will answer with 'but planes already have autopilots and all sorts of automated systems' but a n autopilot doesn't do much more than keep a passsenger plane pointed at the desired heading while two or three professional crew members keep the plane safe. There's still a pilot and crew watching out for the safety of the plane and passengers, there are Ait Traffic Controllers making sure that planes don't come within miles of each other, and planes don't have to watch out for pedestrians (much).

    Computers won't make driving much safer for now, and if we're going to allow automated systems such as these to get into the hands of ordainary people, who will take them as an excuse to pay less, not more attention at the wheel, then we're going to have to deal with the consequences of computer error killing people on a regular basis on our roads.
  • Learner vehicles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fishbot ( 301821 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @08:17AM (#14453036) Homepage
    I have always thought that modern learner cars allow the pupil to get away with far too much. When I learned the car had ABS, power steering and fuel injection. Now they even come with parking sensors! Being able to drive in a car that does everything for you is great, until it doesn't. Then you're screwed.

    My last car was a Citroen AX - carburettor engine, manual choke, no ABS, no power steering, no parking sensors - nothing. Car before that? 1986 VW Polo - that didn't even have servo assisted brakes (PUMP THAT PEDAL!)!. Did I ever crash them? Spin them? Lose control in a skid? No. Why not? Because I learned how to drive, not just how to work the controls. I was well aware of the limits of both the car and myself. If I pushed, it would let me. And I'd be the one suffering.

    One of the rules of the driving test in the UK is that the driver MUST be in control of the vehicle at all times. So, let people have their electronics, their gizmos and their gadgets, but don't let them into the toy cupboard until they've proven that can go without.
  • by DarkSarin ( 651985 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @10:46AM (#14454001) Homepage Journal
    There's another name for this, which I can't remember right now, but essentially there is a theory in the academic (psychology) literature that states very simply that people adjust their behavior to acheive a preferred level of risk.

    This applies when driving, and is _extremely_ important when developing safety systems when driving. Take a person and let them get used to a vehicle that is unsafe, and they will drive more carefully to compensate for the problems that the vehicle has. However, as soon as more safety features are added they will return to their previous (less safe) habits. The problem is that almost everyone overestimates how much safer they are because of the devices, thus they overcompensate, and are actually less safe driving the newer vehicle (because of their changes in style) than they were in the older vehicle. But they actually feel safer because of the safety features and whatnot.

    This is the real reason that unless a feature is absolutely necessary, or shows a difference in safety greater than the compensation, I do not want auto braking or lane change signals and similar tech. What I do want is simple: two devices, one that show the CURRENT speed limit accurately; and one that shows the actual color of the light that you are approaching and how long you have before a light (if green or red) changes. These are two things that would help improve safety by making sure that no one ever has an excuse for running a red light. The speed limit device would give folks a clear idea of their speed in relation to the law. Then if they get caught, the fines could be handled appropriately.
  • by Ranger ( 1783 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @10:52AM (#14454068) Homepage
    carmakers plan to install automatic radar-based blind-spot checkers so motorists can avoid looking over their shoulders while changing lanes.
    You're supposed to look over your shoulder? Hmmmm.. Well, I always tell my passengers if they don't like the way I drive, close their eyes.
  • by Kakurenbo Shogun ( 64436 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @11:26AM (#14454393) Homepage
    As I learned from the literature sent out by my auto insurance company years ago, you can eliminate your blind spots by readjusting your side mirrors. What you do is put your head right up to your side window and adjust the mirror so that you can just barely see the side of your car. Then put your head in the middle of the car (ie. to your right...or left depending on which part of the world you're in) and adjust the other mirror likewise. That way, you don't just duplicate your view of what's behind you with your rear view and side mirrors, and your side mirrors show what's in your blind spot. By the time you can't see a vehicle in your side mirrors, you'll be able to see the front of it right beside you. It takes a little getting used to (maybe a day or two) because, since you can no longer see the sides of your car in your side mirrors, you don't have a fixed point of reference to show you where things are, but as soon as you get used to it, you don't need that crutch anymore.
  • by Retired Replicant ( 668463 ) on Thursday January 12, 2006 @01:03PM (#14455379)
    I think some rear-facing, side-mounted, wide-angle video cameras would be better than "blind-spot checking radar." I would never be able to trust a simple indicator light. An actual visual from a better angle would be more useful, I think.

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