Every year, car shows are filled with new vehicles and cutting-edge technology, some of which may never make it into a car any of us can afford. On the other hand, some high-tech features have trickled down and changed driving, mostly for the better. Some new car technology, however, actually can be worse for driving, but how so?
Great New Car Technology
There’s plenty of new car technology that’s made driving better over the years. Advanced engine and electric vehicle technology are a couple of great examples. They’re made vehicles more powerful and cleaner than ever before. With such advancements, we can enjoy driving without polluting as much.
- Electronic fuel injection is more efficient than carburetors ever were, able to tune to moment-by-moment operating changes. Direct fuel injection and cylinder cutoff have further improved engine power and efficiency.
- On-board diagnostics systems help automakers keep their vehicles running optimally, with ever-tightening emissions regulations. Regulators and auto repair professionals also use on-board diagnostics to monitor, diagnose and repair vehicles.
Such advances have made modern engines more efficient and powerful than ever. Average horsepower has about basically doubled in the past 40 years, and fuel economy has nearly tripled. Of course, we can’t forget to mention critical safety technology. New technology has made car crashes far more survivable than before.
- Supplemental restraint systems keep drivers in their seats and in control, while positioning driver and passengers for best system function. The airbags, in turn, deflate slowly enough to bleed off their momentum to reduce the chance of injury.
- Crumple zones and safety cell construction redirect crash forces around the cabin, instead of through its occupants. Crumple zones absorb crash forces, and safety cell construction disperses it around the cabin. Occupants are more likely to walk away from even severe crashes.
Some new car technology is purely for entertainment purposes or for comfort and convenience. Smartphone driving apps, vehicle infotainment systems, smartphone integration, automatic climate control systems, and mobile Wi-Fi have turned many vehicles into rolling offices, but at what cost?
- Satellite navigation gets us right to the door we’re looking for, using built-in maps and global positioning system (GPS) satellites. Whether built-in or on a smartphone, we no longer need easily outdated road atlases or to roll down the window to ask for directions.
- Bluetooth phone integration makes it possible to make and take phone calls, and hear and respond to text messages. Some vehicles also will play music loaded on your device, instead of relying on CDs or USB.
- Voice command makes it possible for some vehicle controls to work without touching or looking. Every control in the car, aside from the pedals, is controlled by hand, which usually means you must look at what you’re touching, taking your eyes off the road. Voice command can help you from being overly distracted while adjusting climate control or playing your favorite music.
Smartphones have become so ubiquitous that we’ve had to make laws to keep people from being distracted by them while driving. Some so-called “driving apps” and navigation apps are far too intrusive, constantly taking attention away from the road.
This kind of technology can’t remove all the distractions. Studies have shown that just thinking about something distressing is enough to distract driver attention from the road. Just talking with passengers or on a hands-free device really isn’t much better than holding it in your hand. Remember, driving is your primary responsibility. Everything else can wait.
We’ve already mentioned how new car technology has made car crashes more survivable, but the number of car crashes hasn’t diminished appreciably. In fact, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, the number of crashes keeps rising, year after year, despite new technology with the promise to reduce them.
There were 5,338,000 crashes in 2012, growing by about 5 percent every year, rising to 6,296,000 in 2015 (the latest available data). These car crashes, more than 95 percent of which are caused by driver error, result in tens of thousands of fatalities and hundreds of thousands of injuries. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports 35,485 fatalities and 2,443,000 injuries in 2015 alone. Might some new car technology be turning us into worse drivers or encouraging us to take unnecessary risks?
- Anti-lock braking systems have been around since 1971 but weren’t mandatory until 2013. Still, most vehicles are equipped with anti-lock braking systems, which improve stopping on most surfaces, reducing the risk and severity of car crashes.
- Electronic stability control has been around since 1983 but wasn’t mandatory until 2012. Many vehicles since the mid-2000s are equipped with this measure, which helps drivers maintain control of their vehicles, even on slippery roads and in turns.
- Lane-departure warning and lane-keeping systems, precursors to autonomous vehicle technology, have been in development since the early 2000s but aren’t readily available on most vehicles. The NHTSA suggests lane-departure warning systems be made mandatory to prevent crashes.
A Final Note
All advanced safety systems come with a disclaimer, usually something along the lines of “… not a replacement for good driving practices.” In other words, counting on anti-lock braking systems, electronic stability control or lane-keeping assistance to keep you safe is something like ignoring the main parachute and counting on the backup. Instead of relying on such technology to keep you and others safe, taking a driving course and practicing safe driving every day will get you much farther and safer.
There is no replacement for safe driving practices, and considering the number of crashes on the road, we all could use a little more rest, practice and attentiveness. All new car technology, no matter how it works or what it’s for, should be treated as a nice amenity. New car technology can never replace good driving habits, nor should it distract us from them. It can, however, be a great backup when all else fails.