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Guest Thinkers

New Car Technology & Older Drivers

The driving task has generally remained the same since the baby boomers learned to drive. That is about to change. New in-vehicle technologies are promising to make us more connected, aware and safe. That promise is not without its challenges.

Warning systems that beep, glow, vibrate or speak are appearing in new vehicles to alert the driver of a possible collision or unsafe distance. Some vehicles appeared on show room floors this year introducing a wide array of ‘active safety’ applications, e.g., automatic braking systems that will apply pressure if the vehicle senses an imminent collision. More advanced systems will detect driver state — are you fatigued or stressed — and possibly intervene to refresh the driver to ensure optimal performance. Other services are providing real-time information through next-gen infotainment systems connecting you to the Web and a wealth of context rich information on everything from where to eat to where to park. 

Insight & Innovations

These innovations all make sense in the abstract. However, these systems fundamentally change the driving experience. Even a novice driver of only a few years has imprinted on their memory ‘how to drive.’ Drivers with several decades of experience have an even stronger mental model of how to safely operate a vehicle. For example, do I stretch and look to compensate for a blind spot or, like a trained aircraft pilot, ‘do I trust my instruments?’ New in-vehicle technologies pose a new challenge to the automobile industry, insurers, and transportation policymakers.

  • How do we safely introduce these increasingly intelligent ‘autonomous systems’ to the driver?
  • What is the impact on insurer underwriting that must address the possible paradox of active safety systems introducing new risks?
  • Is driver education not just for kids anymore – do new vehicle technologies demand lifelong driver education?
  • How do vehicle designers and engineers manage the marriage between consumer electronics and the dashboard to give drivers the mobile lifestyles they may desire but not the distractions they may introduce?
  • Technology is moving fast. Policy is lagging – how does the transportation safety community (government, manufacturers, insurers and the public) balance innovations on the dash and safety on the roads. For now, the driver is alone and must make their own decision on how to safely self-regulate the use of these systems.

    A January 17, 2010 article by the Boston Globe‘s Hiawatha Bray provides a great overview of things to come – Computing horsepowerCarmakers pack new models with gadgets – and make driving more complex in the process


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