It’s already possible to buy ‘smart’ cars that’ll stop themselves if you’re about to run into the back of another vehicle. But how far will this safety technology go? Could it take too much control away from drivers?
In the future, cars may be able to communicate with each other directly. They could alert vehicles behind them if they’re approaching a jam, which will then slow down automatically.
In the unlikely event of an accident, your car’s on-board computer could also contact the emergency services for you. And they could possibly even relay enough information about the crash for ambulance staff to know how badly injured you are before they arrive at the scene.
Crash tests raise concerns
However, I recently watched a series of crash tests being carried out at Volvo’s state-of-the-art safety centre in Sweden, which made me think twice about relying on new, high-tech safety systems.
One recreated a head-on collision between a new Volvo and a 10-year-old model, dramatically demonstrating the huge leap forward in car safety that’s been achieved over the past decade.
Another was supposed to show us how a new radar detection and collision-avoidance system on the latest Volvo S60 saloon would stop the car from crashing into a truck on a highway. However, human error in preperation meant that the system failed to kick in and the Volvo ploughed straight into the back of the massive truck.
Alert drivers are still essential
This was a graphic reminder that even the ‘smartest’ car has to be driven by an alert and observant motorist if accidents are to be avoided. They should not be relied upon, or used as an excuse to stop concentrating on what’s happening around you.
It also made me wonder about the validity of the proposed systems that allow cars to communicate and control their own speed. What would happen if there was a software malfunction and cars behind were given the wrong information? Instead of just one vehicle crashing, the result could be a massive pile up. So perhaps we shouldn’t be giving up our right to drive independently just yet.