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Transportation Technology

Auto Safety Tech May Encourage Dangerous Driving 601

longacre writes "Modern highway planning schemes designed to make roads safer combined with the comfort and safety technology found in the modern automobile may actually be putting us in danger, according to a compelling piece in Popular Mechanics. Citing studies and anecdotal evidence, the article points out that a driver on a narrow mountain road will probably drive as if their life depends on it; but the same driver on an eight-lane freeway with gradual curves and little traffic may be lulled into speeding while chatting on his cellphone. Quoting: 'Modern cars are quiet, powerful and capable of astonishing grip in curves, even on wet pavement. That's swell, of course, until you suddenly lose traction at 75 mph. The sense of confidence bred by all this capability makes us feel safe, which causes us to drive faster than we probably should. We don't want to make cars with poor response, but perhaps we could design cues — steering-wheel vibration devices, as in video games? — that make us feel less safe at speed and encourage more care. ... In college I drove an Austin-Healey 3000 that somehow felt faster at 45 mph than my Mazda RX-8 (or even my Toyota Highlander Hybrid) feels at 75 mph. That was a good thing.'"
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Auto Safety Tech May Encourage Dangerous Driving

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  • No kidding! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cornwallis ( 1188489 ) * on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:28PM (#27231771)
    I drove an MG for several years and became a better driver for it. And "driver" is the word. People nowadays expect their automobiles to be living rooms on wheels so it is no wonder they don't have a sense of "road feel". This is the same psychology that attempts to hide from airline passengers the fact you're in an airplane. Compare riding in a small plane to an airliner. The modern airliner is as close to not flying as you can get. We spend an inordinate amount of time watching, using and living in machines.
    • Re:No kidding! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:34PM (#27231909) Journal
      A modern airliner is actually safer than the usual small plane (Cessna etc).

      Things would be safer if they required all drivers to be as skilled, trained, responsible as a typical airliner pilot.

      But then most drivers would fail, and they would have transport problems. Politicians would lose lots of votes.
      • Re:No kidding! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by causality ( 777677 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @05:11PM (#27232677)

        A modern airliner is actually safer than the usual small plane (Cessna etc). Things would be safer if they required all drivers to be as skilled, trained, responsible as a typical airliner pilot. But then most drivers would fail, and they would have transport problems. Politicians would lose lots of votes.

        The point you raise about safety brought something else to mind. The emphasis the summary placed on speeding really did not sit well with me. Generally speaking, it works this way:

        Speeding == a way to generate revenue for the state while talking a good game about safety. Failure to yield, following too closely == two things that receive very little emphasis which cause a hell of a lot more preventable accidents that speeding could ever cause.

        A close third would be those people who don't seem to understand the purpose of the passing lane and why they create a hazard for everyone else when they try to monopolize it. Ideally, drivers should have patience for this and value safety above immediate gratification. However, the reality is that if you make it that tempting for people to weave in and out of lanes or to cut right in front of you because there's no other way to get by you, they will do it, count on it. The people who do this should know what situation they are setting up.

        Like the summary, I am of course speaking of highways. I think speeding can be an important issue when you're talking about a residental area where there might be pedestrians walking or children playing. The mistake is to think that this must be some sort of universal truth because of such a special case. When you cover a few basics like discouraging tailgaters and not allowing the pacers to hang out in your blind spot, speeding in and of itself is hardly a threat on an open highway. If you don't cover those basics, strictly obeying the speed limit isn't going to do very much for you if something unexpected happens.

        • by neBelcnU ( 663059 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @07:10PM (#27234465) Journal

          I'm blowing my mod points here, and hoping that I'm redundant to other, earlier and wiser comments, but you are clearly too young to know a simple truth.

                                                  Greater Speed=More Energy=More Lethal Crashes

          It's just this simple, peeps. There is literally no case you can postulate (including "being chased by tyrannosaurs") in which ADDING energy is the best escape strategy. Don't bother: Asteroids? Tanker truck explosion >just starting in the tunnel behind you? There isn't. Simply because the costs of your GUESS ("oh, hockey-mask-clad killer coming up behind me!") if you prove to be wrong, are fatal. Risk requires understanding probabilities and humans do not have a facility for that. We see the hero survive, we envision how it'll work, we "just know" it was the right thing to do, and it simply never is.

          And so, we have this public health problem: too many people, driving too fast, making preventable crashes into fatal ones.

          Don't get it? Note all the appropriate agencies no longer call them "accidents" they're crashes, and they all have the same root-cause: someone was going too fast for the conditions. The investigators' jobs are reduced to finding out who and how much.

          So let's be done with this "speeding is safe" meme. It's crap. I, for one, cannot wait for our automated-car overlords to take over.

          Less throttle, more tunes.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by robbak ( 775424 )

            Yes, there is a linear increase in the danger involved in having a crash, all the way from 10km/hr up.
            But most crashes are not caused by speed. They are caused by failure to give way - and the only way you could write that off to speed is by pointing out that the vehicle should have been stopped (ie speed=0) at the time.
            Another major cause of accidents is fatigue. Fatigue crashes are proportional to time spent driving. Speed = time * distance says that higher speeds mean less time driving.
            I agree that we ne

    • Re:No kidding! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Threni ( 635302 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:38PM (#27231993)

      What's wrong with being in a plane not being like flying? I fly to get where I'm going, not to 'fly'. Flying is boring - you're trapped in an uncomfortable chair with bad food for 12 hours, and if you open the little plastic window thing to look outside a stern woman comes and hits you with a stick and tells you to close it. I want to 'not fly' as often as possible, thanks.

    • Anybody who's driven a fair amount in Europe, on narrow, twisty roads, then goes to somewhere like Australia, or North America, with huge straight roads and freeways, knows this instinctively.

      Why did it take this long to figure it out?

      • I may be dumb, young, and crazy, but last I knew, the level of speed SHOULD go up on a straight flat road verses a mountain pass.

      • Re:No kidding! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @05:20PM (#27232901)

        Painfully slow speed limits on long stretches of nothingness also lull people into such obliviousness. It really sucks when the interstates are obviously modeled after the autobahn, but are not properly implemented or maintained as such. If we were able to go all out autobahn-style (weather permitting), I think more people would actually start paying attention. (Because that type of risk factor would wake you up, and also you'd have less travel time in which to get fatigued. Also the darwin factor would cut out people who go too fast for their own ability and the stupid people that don't understand that left lane is for passing. The removal of selective pressures against bad drivers just means there will be more and more every generation.) But with the current speed limits and the mentality of the legislation behind it, it's no wonder the cruise control is popular and the dashed line induced hypnogogic state kicks in.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) *

          Also the darwin factor would cut out... the stupid people that don't understand that left lane is for passing.

          I think simply having the police actually enforce the exiting "slower traffic keep right" laws would be a better idea.

        • Re:No kidding! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by bmajik ( 96670 ) <> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @11:53PM (#27237025) Homepage Journal

          This is correct. You can use the highway fatality data before, during, and after the no-daytime-speedlimit years in Montana if you want to put some observational data to it.

          Highway fatalities went way down, then way back up after the limits came back.

          Generally, people driving on the highways during the no-limit conditions weren't going _that_ much faster, but were wearing seatbelts more often and paying better attention.

          I've driven on destricted sections of autobahn. It is both exhilarating and taxing. But at no point did I ever lose focus on what I was doing. I also had the benefit of a lot of race track experience here in the US before I went to Germany. I find that 1 hour of continued driving at elevated speeds has me wanting to take a short break. 2 hours of US-speed driving has me wanting to take a long nap.

    • Re:No kidding! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Chyeld ( 713439 ) <> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:45PM (#27232153)

      Unfortunately, those who need it the most [] will be the ones who fight it the hardest.

      But rather than look for ways to fight our nature, embrace it and make the car a living room. Take the steering wheel out of the hands of our admittedly poor hands and automate it.

      The modern airliner is also as close to 'not flying' for the pilot. If they can take something as complicated as that and automate it to the point where you just need the equivalent of a dead man switch for the majority of the flight, you can do it for those long stretches of highway/freeway.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Volante3192 ( 953645 )

        And then you run out of fuel halfway between Edmonton and Montreal and suddenly start flying a 150 ton glider []...

        Or you run into a flock of birds and both engines flame out...

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by profplump ( 309017 )
          There's no reason autopilot wouldn't work for a glider either. Even with the engine out the plane is still generally operable -- without power sufficient to run the autopilot you wouldn't have hydraulics, and it would be a 150 rock, not a 150 ton glider, no matter who was steering the thing.

          Now selecting a non-airport landing site, or landing someplace without well-defined runways or approaches is another problem altogether.

          But I don't see why we couldn't just have one or two ground-based remote pilots avai
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by vux984 ( 928602 )

            In the case of a serious failure ...

            What happens if the "serious failure" impacts the satellite link / remote control system?

            Human ingenuity on board is almost always the most robust option.

      • Re:No kidding! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kabuthunk ( 972557 ) <<moc.liamtoh> <ta> <knuhtubak>> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @05:00PM (#27232481) Homepage

        The problem there is that jets aren't flying 10 feet from eachother, and aren't controlled by road-raging madmen swerving around traffic dangerously to attempt to save 30 seconds from their trip.

        Long story short, it will never happen on the ground. Even if spontaneously every single car in the country (or even world) were changed at the same time to all be as automatic as jet (and hell, for the sake of it, we'll say even antique or older cars were also changed to be automatic somehow), you WILL have tons of people who will find a way to change it manual again so that they can CONTINUE driving like madmen even moreso now, because all the OTHER cars on the road are so predictable now.

    • by johnny cashed ( 590023 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:56PM (#27232383) Homepage
      I repaired an MG for several years and became a better mechanic for it.

      There, fixed it for you.
    • by N1ck0 ( 803359 )

      Maybe we should have a drivers education program and testing system that actually requires people to know how to really drive. Include items like driving on wet pavement, snow, ice, recovering from a real skid and hydroplaning. Driving programs in the United States are a joke, and then when a majority of people actually loose traction, panic stop, or generally do something wrong they stop and go into utter panic because they never had it happen before.

      Maybe finland has the right idea...according to Top G

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @05:11PM (#27232679)

      Why not do this:
      Instead of points and getting rid of someone's license, start removing safety features from their car. The more likely they are to die from an accident, the less likely they are to be reckless!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:29PM (#27231805)

    That is the thing that encourages the reckless behaviour.

    And make it a crime to wear pants while driving. Your ass and sex parts should be exposed to the potential danger as God intends.

    And add a large spike between the legs of the driver.

  • by Stone Rhino ( 532581 ) <mparke@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:29PM (#27231807) Homepage Journal
    And that is why you need a vehicle that gives you engagement with the world, without protective systems or even a windshield. When you've got wind blasting in your face, you don't want to go past 65 mph.
  • Only problem (Score:2, Informative)

    by jonbryce ( 703250 )

    There are a lot more accidents on windy mountain roads than on motorways.

    • are you sure? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:31PM (#27231861)

      Do you have stats to back this up, or are you handwaving?

      I'd expect most accidents to be in urban centers simply because that's where most of the cars are.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by john83 ( 923470 )

        You seem to be right, based on a random assortment of numbers from this site [].

        Interestingly, the numbers killed seem to be higher in rural areas in spite of this, which is more in line with my guess based on news reports over the years.

      • Re:are you sure? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Don853 ( 978535 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @05:13PM (#27232735)
        Link []
        The per mile death rate is lower, in general, in more urban states than more rural ones. My guess is that with everyone stuck together in traffic, most of the accidents happen with a relatively low closing speed so less people are killed. It's certainly not because New Jersey drivers spend more time paying attention to what's going on around them, at least in my experience.

        It's not exactly the same point but it's certainly true that vehicle death totals are down significantly on a per mile basis over the last 40 years, at least in the US. So while there may be a false sense of security brought about by ABS, air bags, and traction control, it doesn't overcome the actual advances in safety.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by corsec67 ( 627446 )

      Is that by number of miles driven?

      Most accident stats are reported on the bases of number of miles driven, so a rarely used road would have a lower absolute number of accidents on it.

  • by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:33PM (#27231887) Journal

    Compulsory big spike in the middle of the steering wheel.

    • by crovira ( 10242 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:56PM (#27232385) Homepage

      When he wrote "Unsafe At Any Speed" people were still getting impaled by their steering wheels which didn't collapse and crumple out of the drivers way.

      I remember as a kid driving by an accident where most of the car was torn away except for the engine and the steering column which we sticking up and through the young woman who'd been driving the car.

      The other car that had slammed into her from the back and propelled her into traffic in the intersection was also dead from the impact with his steering column.

      I'll never be able to wipe that image from my mind so ... joke away but realize that the idiots behind the wheels were sometimes innocent victims.

  • by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:34PM (#27231905) Homepage

    This is why I replaced the seatbelts with deadly snakes, and the airbags with big metal spikes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DWIM ( 547700 )
      You laugh, but this same point was made in the excellent book, The Armchair Economist by Steven Landsburg. In the first chapter, The Power of Incentives: How Seat Belts Kill, he questions whether the additional safety equipment really translates into an overall improvement in safety and demonstrates part of his argument by having us imagine driving a car w/o seat belts and with a sharp metal spike protruding from the steering wheel aimed at your chest. It's hard to deny you would drive very, very carefull
  • Learn to drive. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by qoncept ( 599709 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:35PM (#27231935) Homepage
    The problem isn't the safe car. It's the idiot driving it.

    The Alabama region SCCA has a new driver car control clinic program that teaches kids around the age of 16 how to handle a car when it loses control. The courses look like regular autox courses and it truly makes a huge difference in their ability and confindence, without making them feel like they can drive dangerously. []
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Volante3192 ( 953645 )

      But the idiot driving it is relying on the airbags, crumple zones, seatbelts, anti-lock brakes and rack and peanut steering to keep Darwin at bay.

      Everyone's a great driver when they take the test; once that's over complicity kicks in.

  • It won't be anytime soon, but I'm looking forward to the day when human drivers are completely out of the loop. I'm sure robotic cars will be highly controversial, and any accidents caused by technical failures will bring out the angry mobs with torches, but improving on the current rate of highway deaths per year seems like a pretty achievable target. If human-driven cars were a new invention today, they probably wouldn't be legal.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      We could put all the cars on the same one lane road (in each direction), and they could link up to each other. This would allow less wind resistance and only one car would pull (or push) all the rest. We could call this a "train"
  • by Ontheotherhand ( 796949 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:37PM (#27231971)
    I'm racking my brains, but i just keep coming back to the car thing.
    • It's just like Windows, Microsoft has to put all that annoying crap in there to force people to be better users.

      err.... wait a second...


    • It's like maintenance coding with comments. If you can normally do maintenance in code without comments and 3-character variable names, then you tend to learn the language in depth, and learn to find the clues hidden beneath. But if you only have done maintenance on well documented code with good comments, variable names, and functions, then you are likely to get lost if any of those are missing or incorrect. So, we should all learn to maintain assembly before we move on to nicer languages like C++ and Java
  • by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:38PM (#27231999)

    perhaps we could design cues -- steering-wheel vibration devices, as in video games?

    You act like this would be an innovation, but my 1990 Geo Prizm had this feature, in a compact car no less! If ever I got above 75 mph, the entire vehicle would start to shudder.

    • by Volante3192 ( 953645 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:45PM (#27232149)

      Oh I want a mod point.

      I have taken my Prizm up to 90mph, but damn if I didn't have the feeling it'd turn into the Bluesmobile if I kept it there too long. (I'm talking at the very end of the movie, not the cool bits where it's jumping bridges).

    • by Hodar ( 105577 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:46PM (#27232169)

      The only thing worse than not having a parachute, is having one that doesn't open.

      If we 'teach' people to ignore warnings that their car is losing tractions, such as wheel vibration, we are taking an active role killing people. There are reasons we have traffic laws, policemen with laser and radar, and traffic courts.

      All we can, or should do, is punish stupid behavior. Teaching people to ignore danger signals, will simply lead to people ignore a very serious warning. I'd much rather see someone in traffic court paying a hefty fine, having their insurance fees jacked up and possibly lose driving priviledges - than see them dead. This is especially true, because we all know that when a traffic accident occurs, the people killed are often innocent passengers, and/or another totally innocent vehicle who simply got in the way.

      • by name_already_taken ( 540581 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @07:05PM (#27234391)

        If we 'teach' people to ignore warnings that their car is losing tractions, such as wheel vibration, we are taking an active role killing people.

        Wheel vibration isn't a useful signal that the car is about to lose traction. It's already "taken" by other problems: It's a signal that a tire has blown out, or you have a wheel out of balance, a misaligned front suspension, a severe engine misfire, or a very cheap car.

        Making the wheel vibrate artificially to signal the edge of available traction only makes sense if the rest of the car is in ideal condition (including design).

        The big yellow triangle with exclamation point that flashes in the middle of my Mercedes' speedometer is a much better indicator. You really can't miss it, and it can't be mistaken for some other minor problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:38PM (#27232001)

    Just drive on my local highways during moderate traffic. You'll never feel safe again.

    Rush hour is actually safer since nobody is moving anyways.

  • Anonymous Coward (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:39PM (#27232025)

    Basic economics says that we we are endowed with something like safer cars, we will use:

    1) Part of it to actually increase safety, and
    2) part of it to trade-off against things like speed, convenience, etc.

    The fallacy that the headline implies is that safer cars lead to less safety.

  • It may just take time for people to adjust. Once bitten, twice shy... someone who loses traction going very fast around a curve will think twice before going that fast again. If they die... well, that's one more careless/reckless driver off the roads.

    People have been driving cars on raods for what, a little over 100 years now? as time has gone by, the safe driving speed has continued to climb... yet there have always been people driving too fadt for their vehicles and driving conditions. Adding artific
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by egburr ( 141740 )

      The rest of the drivers can use feedback mechanisms such as "the speedometer" and "vision" to realize they are driving fast.

      The speedometer only tells you how fast you are moving, it tells you nothing about whether that is too fast for current conditions.

      The feel of the car provides the best clues about whether you're going too fast, but modern cars do their best to mask that as much as possible, because it interferes with your other distractions.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by profplump ( 309017 )
        The speedometer tells you how fast you are moving. Your vision tells you what the current conditions are. We expect your brain to connect the two -- if it can't there's no amount of steering wheel shaking, noises or other "clues" that will be of any use in making the same determination.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Red Flayer ( 890720 )

        The feel of the car provides the best clues about whether you're going too fast, but modern cars do their best to mask that as much as possible, because it interferes with your other distractions.

        You miss my point. The feel of a modern car is different than the feel of an older car. The problem is that people who have driven older cars (myself included), need to get used to the feedback of newer cars.

        Rather than adapting the cars with tech to make them mimic old cars, why don't we focus on people getting

  • People will always behave at the lowest level of intellectual output that will keep them safe--if you perceive that the road is engineered to keep you safe (banked curves, wide lanes, etc.), you will put less effort into ensuring your safety.

    The issue is that when everyone behaves as such, what you end up with is what we have: a bunch of idiots with rapidly moving large hunks of metal and plastic, most of whom are relatively oblivious to what is around them simply because they don't feel they need to pay
  • Look, I'm all in favor of these advanced cars lulling me into a false sense of safety. That way I can convince girls to give me road head [], especially when I'm on drugs!

  • Risk Compensation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WH44 ( 1108629 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:43PM (#27232111)
    This is a well known effect known as "Risk Compensation" (Wikipedia) []. The most famous study showing the effect was on a fleet of taxis in Munich equipped with Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS).
  • "In college I drove an Austin-Healey 3000 that somehow felt faster at 45 mph than my Mazda RX-8 (or even my Toyota Highlander Hybrid) feels at 75 mph. That was a good thing."

    Not only was it a good thing, but it probably made the Austin-Healey MORE FUN TO DRIVE. That is a very GOOD thing in my book.

    I love to point out this blog post to car crazy friends: []

    Don't believe me, consider this; a new stock Honda Accord V6 (boring right?) can out accelerate most stock muscle cars from the muscle car era. This is due to a decrease in car weight, better transmissions, and more advanced engines. You have to wonder why a "boring, practical" car needs to be able to out accelerate some of the fastest cars made.

  • I don't think its the safety technology or performance ability that's mostly to blame. It's the "comfortable drive".
    At some point the ability to feel the road and get actual feedback from your car became "uncomfortable". My wife's 2005 V6 Camry was a perfect example. Full of power, features like "traction control", and great cornering, yet it felt like driving a hovercraft. No feedback whatsoever. And the throttle was slow to respond when you needed a quick leap into moving traffic. There was a very
  • Let us take a look, shall we, at what kind of car the Healey was. Here's a nice pic: []

    Steel hood, cast iron frame, cast iron block. If you hit a truck tire with that thing, your head is going through the windshield, the car would likely buck straight up, and AH's had a nasty tendency to roll over because they were so rigid.

    Driving that car at 45 was inherently more dangerous than driving a modern Caddy at 75 or even 80. ABS,
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Knara ( 9377 )

      Re-instate the national 55 limit.

      This message brought to you by the airline industry and Greyhound.

  • wrong problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:51PM (#27232271)

    The problem here isn't improvements in technology but rather user expectations. This should be a familiar problem to almost everyone here. What's amazing about this is that there are so many drivers on the road with little or no formal training, there aren't more accidents. These are people who are routinely lulled into a sense of security because they repeatedly engage in dangerous behavior without consequences. Well, what's the natural, human, thing to do when you do something a hundred times without ill-effect? You assume it's safe. You've driven with that 64 oz big gulp between your legs, a cheeseburger propped up on your leg, fries in the cup holder, while talking to a friend in the next seat doing the same thing how many times? Too many to count. And you haven't been in an accident. It's precisely this erosion of standards that leads to accidents, and the ONLY -- and I repeat ONLY -- way to safeguard against it is routine training.

    Which is the one thing nobody will ever agree to, because they think driving is a right, not a priviledge. Afterall, it's all those other jerks that are causing problems, not me, right? Just like how something like 90% of drivers think they're "above average", huh. If you want to solve the accident rate problem, the solution is training and certification by a competent authority and stiff punishments for non-compliance with those standards. Hard pill to swallow though, as entrenched as the automobile is in our culture and the sense of entitlement -- even repeat DUI offenders insist they should have their license.

  • This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. []

  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:51PM (#27232293)

    In particular, how SUVs separate the driver's experience from the road in a dangerous way. And on the shopping habits of American car buyers in general. It's a favorite article of mine.

    Big and Bad: How the S.U.V. ran over automotive safety []

    "In the Jetta, the engine is clearly audible. The steering is light and precise. The brakes are crisp. The wheelbase is short enough that the car picks up the undulations of the road. The car is so small and close to the ground, and so dwarfed by other cars on the road, that an intelligent driver is constantly reminded of the necessity of driving safely and defensively. An S.U.V. embodies the opposite logic. The driver is seated as high and far from the road as possible. The vehicle is designed to overcome its environment, not to respond to it. Even four-wheel drive, seemingly the most beneficial feature of the S.U.V., serves to reinforce this isolation. Having the engine provide power to all four wheels, safety experts point out, does nothing to improve braking, although many S.U.V. owners erroneously believe this to be the case. Nor does the feature necessarily make it safer to turn across a slippery surface: that is largely a function of how much friction is generated by the vehicle's tires. All it really does is improve what engineers call trackingâ"that is, the ability to accelerate without slipping in perilous conditions or in deep snow or mud. Champion says that one of the occasions when he came closest to death was a snowy day, many years ago, just after he had bought a new Range Rover. "Everyone around me was slipping, and I was thinking, Yeahhh. And I came to a stop sign on a major road, and I was driving probably twice as fast as I should have been, because I could. I had traction. But I also weighed probably twice as much as most cars. And I still had only four brakes and four tires on the road. I slid right across a four-lane road. " Four-wheel drive robs the driver of feedback. "The car driver whose wheels spin once or twice while backing out of the driveway knows that the road is slippery," Bradsher writes. "The SUV driver who navigates the driveway and street without difficulty until she tries to brake may not find out that the road is slippery until it is too late. " Jettas are safe because they make their drivers feel unsafe. S.U.V.s are unsafe because they make their drivers feel safe. That feeling of safety isn't the solution; it's the problem."

  • by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:52PM (#27232303)
    "If you want people to drive safer, take out the airbag and attach a machete pointed at their neck."
  • by phillymjs ( 234426 ) <slashdot.stango@org> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:53PM (#27232327) Homepage Journal

    ...are the bane of my existence. I used to have a '94 Grand Am, and the ABS control chip failed in it-- a failure which manifested itself in a particularly terrifying way: Occasionally when I would attempt to apply the brake, the pedal would go straight to the floor and not actually activate the brakes. At all. I'd have to quickly take my foot off and reapply. Luckily it never happened in a situation where I would have had to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. You can bet your ass I got that little problem fixed in a hurry, because there's no feeling like stepping on the pedal and finding that the brakes aren't fucking there.

    Now, I drive a Scion Xa with what can only be called an overzealous ABS. If I'm braking and happen to hit a pothole or bump hard enough, the ABS is triggered and suddenly my stopping distance is not going to be less than the distance to the bumper of the car in front of me. Once again, the solution is to quickly take my foot off and then reapply. I have had to learn where the trouble spots are on the roads I frequent and brake very carefully when approaching them, always ready to lift my foot and then brake again if necessary.

    I kinda wish ABS was something that could be toggled by the driver... it has its uses, but IME it's been more of a pain in the ass than a lifesaver.


    • So the first time you had a broken part (bad luck, but everything can fail), and the second time.. Not really sure what your problem is there. Sounds like you need to pay more attention when driving and not get into situations where you have to slam on the brakes so hard that any road surface irregularity will cause you to crash into the next car

      Either that or the ABS is broken again on the new car. No way should you have to "learn where the trouble spots are on the roads". Something is not right, eith

      • I'm not slamming on the brakes, this happens even when gradually applying the brakes to slow from a reasonable highway speed down to off-ramp speed. Particularly when I hit the rim of a depression created by a manhole cover that's an inch or so lower than the road surface at the highway exit by my office.

        If it happened when I was driving way too fast or not paying attention, I would have been in a collision by now.


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Knara ( 9377 )

      In the first case, your main problem was driving a Grand Am. The second case, is buying a Scion. Try buying a car that is reliable and well-built and you'll be much better off.

  • Such a good thing? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:54PM (#27232345) Journal

    In college I drove an Austin-Healey 3000 that somehow felt faster at 45 mph than my Mazda RX-8 (or even my Toyota Highlander Hybrid) feels at 75 mph. That was a good thing.'"

    Unless you arrive at your destination exhausted because the car was nagging at you the whole way. Back in my college days, I drove from Northern Calif to Southern in a noisy, rattletrap. I pulled into Pasadena around 5 hours after starting and was bone tired from the drive. So tired in fact, I didn't notice a kid crossing in front of a stopped car in the next lane. The stopped car driver realized I wasn't slowing down, saw that the kid was in jeopardy and so he leaned on his horn. Had that driver not blasted his horn, I could well have hit the kid. As it was, I'm sure the kid never realized how close he came to being hit because he stopped and glared at the horn blower.

    Quieter, smoother cars just don't fatigue you as much as cars used to. I think that's a good thing. Being in an accident because you're tired, not so much.

  • by demonbug ( 309515 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @04:58PM (#27232439) Journal

    According to all of the statistics I have seen, injury and fatality rates continue to steadily decrease (latest US statistics []). I understand the point the article is trying to make - and in specific cases it is probably true - but on the whole, making vehicles and roads safer does in fact translate into an increase in overall safety in spite of the idiotic driving habits of the general public.

    I tend to think that having a more extensive driver training program where drivers are exposed to poor conditions and limits of vehicle handling are a much better idea than purposely making roads and vehicles worse. Maybe even have rigorous enough testing that the incompetent are actually weeded out and not allowed to possess driver's licenses.


    • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
      Almost anyone can get a drivers license. I saw a show once where an 85 year old man that clearly was not all there mentally was still passed on a dmv driving test (he could barely walk and became disoriented after he left the car, no joke). I am all for as much freedom as possible for the elderly, but it was quite scary. Higher standards would yield better driving.
  • []

    The safer people think they are the more carelessly they will drive.

  • Auto safety tech may encourage higher insurance premiums due to increased dangerous driving. Joy.
  • Has it occurred to anyone that you are used to the vibration as a form of feedback. Additionally you associate certain vibrational sensations with certain speeds and conditions.

    Chances are that your older perception of speed and control may not co-inside with a younger person's perception who has not driven older vehicles?

    Even more, take a simple test, drive at 65MPH for a long distance, then drive at 85MPH for a long distance, then go back to 65. It will not feel as fast as 65 did the first time. Why? b

  • I saw a show years ago about this same situation. People start to think that seatbelts and airbags will save them and take more risks. The auto-safety expert joked that they should put a big spike coming out of the stearing column and then people might actually drive a little more within their limits.

    As for older cars feeling safer, they definitely weren't. Each generation is progressively better no matter how fast their top speed is. I have driven a Model T and a Model A (both owned by my father).
  • I think all drivers should be required to go spend an hour on a realistic simulator that takes them through losing traction or a tire blow out and other such emergencies. Also all teens must go through the simulator that simulates delayed reaction times caused by alcohol.

    The simulators should be available 24/7. It would cost money to build and staff these simulators, but hey, what is a couple of billion dollars now a days.

  • In other words... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by still cynical ( 17020 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @05:17PM (#27232835) Homepage

    ...people will drive as fast and with as much care as they feel safe getting away with. Some think we should come up with ways to make people feel less safe than they actually are.

    Of course, then people learn to distrust feedback and cues, knowing that they are designed to fool them. End result, people start driving fast again, only now they have no cues that they trust, including the real ones.

  • I've been aware of this effect for two decades, and it's all about an absence of feedback from car to driver. Think about the feedback that you get as a "driver" when you ride a bicycle: the faster you want to move, the harder you have to work physically and the greater the feedback you get from both the bicycle and your own muscles.

    That is precisely what is missing in modern cars. Not only is there no physical work involved - we now even have power steering, power windows, power everything - but the engine is largely silent at all speeds, the tires don't hum, the shocks are quiet; the interior is like a virtual womb.

    The last vehicle I drove, for 14 years, was a 1989 Mercury Tracer (which had the same engine as a Mazda 323). I miss that little vehicle for the degree of feedback that it gave me as the driver: the engine actually made noise and vibration that increased as I drive faster, etc. Even though I still don't drive a "luxury car" by any means, I don't get that so much since then. Fortunately I still have what you might call muscle memory of the Tracer.

    If we REALLY want to make cars safer, AND teach people to use fuel more wisely, then vehicles should be made much more an extension of our physical bodies; there should be some tangible or physical consequence and feedback from driving faster or driving recklessly.

  • by speedtux ( 1307149 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @07:25PM (#27234649)

    Just look at fatal accident rates for 100,000,000 vehicle miles: it's been steadily decreasing since 1920, by at least an order of magnitude. []

    Furthermore, if you look at the German statistics, accident rates have been decreasing despite steadily increasing speeds (85th percentile speed is 95mph): []

    So: new technologies are making us safer and let us travel at higher speeds. Sorry, but this isn't even a glass-half-empty situation.

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein