Fleet News

Guest opinion: Car safety features could backfire on us

Guest opinion: Andy Price, Senior risk consultant, motor fleet, Zurich Risk Services

MANUFACTURERS continually strive to introduce new technology into their cars – much of it currently focused on making cars safer. So where does that leave the fleet manager when it comes to specifying what vehicles and equipment to select?

This issue came to mind when I was reading about an initiative to ensure that whenever a car’s windscreen wipers are on, so are the lights.

On the face of it, this makes perfect sense, as wipers are generally only used in poor weather conditions when visibility is likely to be reduced. So this should be a good thing, shouldn’t it?

Well, as with all technology, the answer is never this straightforward. This example is another case of removing the need for the driver to think.

So far so good, as it prevents drivers forgetting to put their lights on in adverse weather conditions.

The potential problem here is that the more the car does ‘on its own’, the greater the tendency for a driver to switch to ‘auto-pilot’ when driving on the roads.

In this case there may be a tendency for the driver to not think about the reduced visibility issue – after all, the car does that for them, doesn’t it?

The danger here, of course, is that not all cars will have this technology fitted, so while the driver may be in a car that is more visible to other road users, the driver will still have to be on the look-out for vehicles without lights and pedestrians in dark clothing.

If drivers aren’t thinking about these issues, then they will be at a greater risk of being involved in a major collision.

So should the fleet manager specify this option if it becomes available? This is more difficult to answer.

The natural tendency is to think that we should be providing as safe a vehicle as possible.

I agree with this up to a point, but I think that much more emphasis needs to be placed on training the driver on how to utilise the technology effectively. This is probably best illustrated by a well-known example.

ABS brakes are undoubtedly a fantastic safety feature but – and this is a big but – only when a driver knows how to use them effectively. Many drivers actually decrease the braking pressure the first time the system is activated, leading to increased stopping distances, because they think the pulsating through the brake pedal is a fault with the car.

Many drivers fail to avoid a crash because they don’t know that ABS allows them to steer and brake at the same time.

So while the fleet manager has specified a good safety feature, risks can sometimes increase because the driver does not fully understand how to use it.

Technological advances are generally a good thing, but before we all rush to implement them in our fleets we must make sure that our drivers know how to utilise them safely and effectively.

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