I love driving. I absolutely adore it. There is something about opening the windows and/or sunroof on a nice day, pumping up some great music, and just seeing the road stretch ahead of you as you hit the gas pedal. To someone like me, as much as I care about safety, the thought of autonomous or assisted driving sounds like a bit of a buzzkill. Where is the fun in tackling the open road if the only thing you’re controlling is probably the windows, thermostat, and entertainment?
At the same time, my travels in my beloved cars haven’t always been without incident. Some years ago, I was driving home from work, getting ready to exit from the highway, when the driver of the garbage truck next to me realized he needed to be on the other side of me to take an exit. Although I was a bit ahead of the truck in the next lane, the driver instinctively jerked the wheel to cross lanes, literally sending me into a tailspin as the truck hit the back corner of my vehicle. Miraculously, no other car was close enough that I hit a vehicle or got hit by one. Aside from some jitters, aches, and pains, I was okay—even better than okay, realizing how incredibly lucky I was that things hadn’t turned out much, much worse.
So it’s with mixed feelings that I watch all of the innovations going into automotive development to make cars and driving safer. As someone who has been watching electronics evolve for going on 20 years, the technology development supporting these automotive advances is truly breathtaking. Numerous technologies and applications are being developed and implemented simultaneously, breaking ground individually while supporting the enhanced capabilities of a total solution.
As a mother whose kids will be driving in a too-near future, I also welcome the safety aspects. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the combination of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) safety applications could reduce the severity of—or completely eliminate—up to 80% of non-impaired-driving crashes.
Tech on Deck
Much attention has been given to the DOT’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking since its release this past December. Its goal is to enable vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology on all new light-duty vehicles so that vehicles can talk to each other. Using dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), V2V communications systems will exchange information with other vehicles concerning location, speed, direction, braking status, and more. That data would be updated and broadcast up to 10 times per second to nearby vehicles. Using this data from other cars, V2V devices can determine if a warning should be given to the driver to help prevent a crash.
DSRC covers a range of roughly 300 meters, which surpasses systems with ultrasonic sensors, cameras, and radar. As a result, warnings arrive more quickly to drivers. According to the DOT, these radio messages also can “see” around corners or “through” other vehicles by using the vantage point of other cars within 300 meters and being aware of what is around them. Such information can help drivers be aware, for example, of a vehicle that may be about to emerge from an alley or other difficult-to-see area. When I think of new drivers like my kids or tired, stressed, distracted, unwell, etc., drivers, I welcome such technologies because they will make the road a safer place.
Clearly, we all can benefit from V2V applications like Left Turn Assist (LTA), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), and Blind Spot Warning (BSW). We will literally have eyes everywhere in terms of awareness of our surroundings and what is happening with other vehicles. I want to know that my kids will return safely when they take the keys and head out the door.
However, I also want them to have that feeling of excitement and anticipation that comes with driving—not passively sitting, but actually controlling the car—on a long, open stretch of road. The next step, as the DOT notes, is to combine such sensing and warning with automated driving.
Will we still be able to enjoy truly driving a car once all of these technologies are in place? Or will we someday have to sign a bunch of waivers to drive a completely human-controlled vehicle on a designated track? Maybe we’ll have to pay a fee or schedule time on an open road. I’m all for a world where fatalities or injuries caused by car crashes are a thing of the past. But part of me mourns the joy of driving—truly driving—and the fact that future generations won’t know the joy of the open road. I would love to hear your thoughts below or feel free to email me at [email protected].