Wednesday 21 June 2017

Safer Cars?

Manufacturers are constantly evolving the motor car to give us, the consumer, a better, safer, more convenient and more comfortable drive.  Many of the features incorporated today do just that.  For example, built-in satnavs, electric seats, windscreen heaters and eco stop/start are all things which make for a more pleasant driving experience.

However, as the designers constantly tweak aspects of the car there is a risk that they start to compromise the most important aspect of driving, that of road safety.  I wonder whether they are now pushing the boundaries so far that it is actually having the opposite effect to that desired.  To take a simple but significant example, daytime running lights.  These are the line of LED lights usually around the headlight which operate whenever the car is running.  LED's are bright, very bright and these can start to impact on the ability to see the indicator effectively depending on their closeness.  In duller weather DRL's project a significant light and it is easy to forget, particularly in rain or other conditions of bad visibility that whilst the front of the car is easily seen, the rear of the car has no such DRL's and therefore cannot easily be seen.

Almost from their inception, indicators have been positioned to the outside of the car body.  Indeed on the old Morris Traveller (and others) there was a little 'arm' that sprang out when the indicator was put on.  Nowadays the position of the indicator seems to be secondary to the overall design of the light clusters, meaning that if the indicator 'looks better' in the middle of the light cluster, that is where it will be rather than where it can be clearly seen.

With the drive towards more slimline lights, we now have single line indicators which are even more difficult to see, particular when the DRL's are on.  Lights also 'move' along slim lines, which seems to me like an unnecessary distraction - clever, yes.  Safe?  Maybe not.  Manufacturers need to realise that their priority should be towards road safety and not design!

In-car features which we think of as making our lives easier can also be counter-productive.  Having relatively recently acquired a car with automatic windscreen wipers I have noticed that they do not necessarily wipe the windscreen at the same interval I would.  There then ensues a battle between doing it myself and allowing the car to do it on my behalf.  It seems rather petty to do the former when the manufacturer has provided the latter even if it does not provide me with the cleaning frequency that I require.  So I compromise and look through a screen which is not clear wondering when the wipers will go again.

Automatic headlights create a different problem.  Going through a tunnel, brilliant - I don't have to think about it.  When it gets dark, okay - probably puts them on a bit early for me.  When it rains and visibility is poor, probably won't turn them on.  Taking some of the decision making away from the driver but not being entirely clear when is, to my mind, ill-considered.

The other problem with safety features is that not all cars have them.  If a pupil learns in a car with lots of fancy features - and let's be honest, I quite like having a car with gizmos galore - then they will expect those features on their 1.0 10 year old Corsa!  On such a car, hill assist (which my car has) is called a handbrake.

Finally, manufacturers have made cars safer, the passenger cage, air bags of numerous varieties, active braking systems to name but a few.  These amazing advancements are great but should not be considered as a justification for then introducing features which detract from safety.  If the scales between those features which make driving safer and those that make it less safe are balanced then that needs to be redressed in favour of safety.  In fact, if a feature makes a car less safe should it be on the car at all? 

Furthermore, the more technology that manufacturers introduce into cars the more lazy drivers will become.  This is not a criticism but is simply a statement of human nature.  To fight against human nature is not only illogical but unrealistic so we rely, to an extent, on car manufacturers to rein in their natural enthusiasm for amazing technological advancements and keep road safety at the forefront of their strategies.

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