microprocessor has invaded automobiles, engineers have used them to
create safety features that protect drivers from poor judgment.
each wheel can detect when one wheel is spinning at a rate different
from the others. A computer will then regulate the offending tireís
rotation to regain traction. Cameras and radars are used to alert
drivers to unseen pedestrians or traffic crossing their carís path
or help drivers park. These same systems can prepare for a crash by
alerting the driver to brake and, if thereís no response,
intervene, stopping the car entirely.
It goes even
Some of these
systems can read markings in the road ahead. If your car goes over a
line and into another lane of traffic, a computer can steer the car
back into your lane without your help. This is easily accomplished,
as most cars use electric power steering, rather than hydraulic.
Such systems are just becoming available, most notably on the
Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class for 2014.
You can see
where this is headed: Someday, a car will able to drive itself. And
getting there will take longer than you think.
A few months
ago, I was test driving a Lincoln MKZ with a push-button starter and
a keyless entry fob. However, halfway through the week-long test,
the car didnít recognize that the fob was inside the car and
wouldnít start Ė even though the fob was resting in the center
console. There was no owners manual in the car ó this was a pilot
production vehicle ó so there was no way to get the car started.
I am sure many
of you have similar tales of such electronic gremlins; thatís why
I believe that while driverless cars will become reality, such
gremlins will delay their arrival.
long it takes for your new carís infotainment system to figure out
a navigation route, or recognize that your iPod has been plugged in.
Now, think of how fast a driver has to react if some nimrod suddenly
cuts in front. Can the car react in time? What about all of those
roads without lane markings, or ones that are barely visible?
that in such instances, a driver can intercede. But what if theyíre
checking email, surfing the web or watching a Seinfeld rerun? Such
activities would be feasible if you didnít have to pay attention
to driving most of the time. And, if drivers could intercede in
time, will they have the skill to prevent an accident? Their
abilities might be rusty if they no longer pay attention 99 percent
of the time.
This would, in
turn, be a bonanza for trial lawyers and, eventually, legislators.
No one has
ever gotten poor overestimating the laziness of Americans, which is
why the breathless announcements about cars that can drive
themselves have grabbed our attention.
But even if
something is possible, that doesnít mean that itís practicable
ó at least in the near term. After all, an automakerís test
track or a limited run down a highway is not the real world and the
millions of drivers who ply it.