Fleet News

Guest opinion: Gizmos no substitute for responsible driver

IT’S not what you’ve got, but what you do with it that matters. An old adage, I’ll admit, but one that’s hugely relevant to the ever-increasing number of gadgets and gizmos designed to improve in-car safety.

Working in the area I do, I’ve heard numerous reports and can foresee a multitude of situations where such devices could have the opposite effect to those intended and actually add to the number of accidents.

In effect, many of these innovations are in grave danger of undermining the role and responsibility of the driver to avoid accidents.

As someone who champions road safety, I’m passionate about supporting any initiative that could lead to safer roads but, to put it simply, I have concerns about some of these tools.

Drivers can so easily become cocooned in their vehicles. If they are made to feel safe that the car will do an element of the driving for them, they will inevitably relax and take their mind off their driving, and that is when accidents happen.

I agree technology which feeds essential information to the driver about safe distances, road surface temperatures and tyre pressures can be vital in helping drivers make better decisions regarding their behaviour behind the wheel.

But, technology which physically takes control of the vehicle or reduces the necessity to concentrate, needs to be proven in terms of the extent to which it should be utilised.

Many of the major motor manufacturers continue to introduce an increasing number of very clever and sophisticated technical innovations on their vehicles to protect the driver and other road users, one example being Vauxhall’s plans to launch Traffic Assist, an in-car system capable of driving itself at speeds of up to 60mph in heavy traffic.

According to reports, the system will require little input from the driver, instead using an assortment of gizmos which will allow the car to carry out all the steering, acceleration and braking needed to navigate main-road traffic jams while the driver sits back and relaxes.

I’m hugely intrigued to see what the Vauxhall system can do and can’t wait to try it out. If it proves a success, I will be the first to applaud the firm for investment in road safety. However, we should tread very carefully before making dramatic changes to the way vehicles operate.

Satellite navigation is a great example of where technology replaces a very dangerous practice – attempting to map-read while driving. However, a moving map on screen can be a distraction to a driver who is constantly glancing at the navigation equipment rather than watching the road.

It also removes any need at all for route planning, leaving the driver to react to instructions rather than plan his or her journey in advance, which can lead to them not knowing whether they will be making a turn until a few hundred yards ahead.

Reversing warnings are another double-edged sword.

Great if you find it hard to judge the distance into a car parking space, but I’ve heard many stories from drivers who are hardly looking behind them when reversing, in the knowledge they will hear a beep if something is behind the vehicle.

There are also other items such as run- flat tyres, a multitude of warning lights, and a host of other accessories which could lead to drivers ignoring vital regular safety checks.

Finally, increases in new car technology raise a number of questions for me about the standard driving test. For example, who teaches existing drivers to use the latest gadgets and who ensures they are competent to use them?

Should drivers who have already passed their test, perhaps many years ago, require re-training if they drive a vehicle vastly different to anything they have driven before? And should learner drivers be allowed to take their tests using technology-enhanced vehicles?

I would not class myself a Luddite, but I do need some serious reassurance on questions such as these.

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