Can car crashes become thing of past?

January 13, 2016 by Mira Oberman
An Acura NSX is photographed with a long exposure as it rotates on a turntable at the 2016 North American International Auto Sho
An Acura NSX is photographed with a long exposure as it rotates on a turntable at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, January 12, 2016

Automakers are imagining a world where nobody dies in car accidents and they say it is closer than most people think.

While they maintain that the real solution to a crash-free world lies in self-driving cars, a host of high-tech features are making drivers safer—and better—in the meantime.

"The long term vision is that cars shouldn't crash," Volvo spokesman Jim Trainor said Tuesday on the sidelines on the Detroit auto show.

Volvo—which has built its reputation on safety leadership—has set a goal that by 2020 nobody will be killed or seriously injured in its new cars.

The past decade has seen dramatic development by various automakers in the field of collision-avoidance technology.

Blind-spot detectors now watch for oncoming vehicles, adaptive cruise controls reduce speed based on cars ahead, and camera systems warn drivers when they drift out of their lanes.

Detectors can even pick up on a drowsy driver's subtle changes in behavior to indicate it's time for a break.

Frustration-free is 'key'

The key to making new safety features desirable to drivers is ensuring that they assist rather than irritate, Trainor said.

"If it false brakes too often, people get frustrated and they turn the system off," he told AFP. "We need to calibrate the system so it gives the driver every last possible moment to take action."

Google's Self Driving Car Project CEO John Krafcik speaks at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, Michigan, January 12
Google's Self Driving Car Project CEO John Krafcik speaks at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, Michigan, January 12, 2016

In addition to accident avoidance, Volvo is developing systems that reduce injuries when crashes are inescapable.

Among these is a rear impact mitigation system which senses if a car is approaching too quickly and preconditions the interior for impact by tightening seatbelts and engaging brakes.

Safety for the masses

Initially reserved for high-end luxury vehicles, the cost of is falling and finding its way into lower-priced automobiles.

The new Ford Fusion, which the automaker introduced at the Detroit auto show Monday, contains 20 driver-assistance technologies including a pedestrian-detection system and a steering wheel that vibrates if a driver begins drifting from the lane.

"As we release more vehicles I think you'll anticipate a lot of migration across the lineup," Ford spokesman John Cangany told AFP.

GM unveiled a new rear-door monitor in its GMC Acadia crossover Tuesday that reminds drivers to check the back seat for children before leaving the car.

Volvo displayed an electric C30 sedan that had been in a crash test to show its safety features on January 11, 2011
Volvo displayed an electric C30 sedan that had been in a crash test to show its safety features on January 11, 2011

The safety feature will eventually be included in all of its models.

"Too many children are accidentally left behind in vehicles," Mark Reuss, head of product development at GM, said while introducing the feature.

GM is the first automaker to use the alert system and is working on technology that can detect if a child is left behind.

About 30 to 40 children die every year in the United States from heat stroke after being left in a hot vehicle, most because their distracted parents simply forgot they were still in their car seats.

"Obviously we want to protect our customers," Rich Latek, who heads marketing for GMC, told AFP.

"We're really looking at a goal to end up with zero collisions and zero fatalities. It's a lofty goal but it's something that's possible with the technology that's out there."

Meanwhile Toyota recently introduced a new suite of features called Safety Sense which will be offered on nearly all models by 2017.

When first introduced on Lexus vehicles it cost an additional $6,000. Toyota has now managed to bring the price down to $300 to $630, spokesman Mike Kroll said.

Scandals hit confidence

Despite the science fiction-like advancements in safety technology, a slew of scandals has undermined trust in the reliability of vehicles.

Monday saw the first civil trial over a deadly ignition switch defect which General Motors hid from safety regulators for more than a decade and is linked to at least 124 deaths.

Automakers are still working to replace potentially explosive airbags by Japanese supplier Takata in 19 million vehicles in the United States.

And Fiat Chrysler and Toyota have each become embroiled in scandal—and handed millions upon millions of dollars in fines—over improperly handling or even covering up defects in millions of vehicles.

Explore further: Toyota: Cars will be safer, but still need drivers

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dogbert
1 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2016
These costly and dangerous features where the car seizes control from the driver should have the ability to be disabled by the driver.

Imagine driving on icy roads with a self braking car ...
indio007
5 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2016
Guess you never heard of traction control.
dogbert
1 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2016
indio007,
Guess you never heard of traction control.


Why would you say that? Traction control is not generally dangerous and in any implementation I have seen, it can be turned off.

A car that slams on the brakes unexpectedly is very dangerous. It can cause wrecks on dry roads. The danger on slick roads is much worse.

Cars should not seize control from the driver. These features, like a cruise control, should be selectable by the driver and easily disabled. I can choose not to use cruise control when in heavy traffic and when I am using it, I can turn it off with a simple tap on the brake.

I do not know how the self braking cars have implemented the self braking, but I have not read that the system is selectable or that it can be disabled.

If all manufacturers make their cars more dangerous, there is going to be a larger market for old, safe cars without the so called improvements.
rgw
4 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2016
These costly and dangerous features where the car seizes control from the driver should have the ability to be disabled by the driver.

Imagine driving on icy roads with a self braking car ...


*******************************
Autonomous cars, unlike idiot people will not try to drive on impossible road conditions. When confronted with undriveable events, all vehicles will exit or stop safely until the dangerous condition is resolved. Canine luddites will now try to list exceptions to the situations that activate such driving restrictions. Any situation that you come up with will be planned for.
dogbert
1 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2016
rgw,
So you see having, for example, a medical emergency, but being unable to drive to a medical center because your car thinks it is to dangerous to drive as an OK situation?

Glad I will never have to depend on you in an emergency.
greenonions
5 / 5 (3) Jan 14, 2016
dogber
If all manufacturers make their cars more dangerous,


The cars will be safer - that is the point. All of this research and design is going in to make cars safer. Manufacturers (google for example) are in the process of developing these systems - and will not release them if they do not make the system safer.
dogbert
1 / 5 (3) Jan 14, 2016
A car that brakes itself is not safer. It might be as safe if the driver can disable the system.

If you are driving on snow/ice and your car decides to brake, you will lose control of the car. That is decidedly not safer.
greenonions
5 / 5 (3) Jan 14, 2016
A car that brakes itself is not safer.
Yes it is. There are examples on youtube today of Tesla cars braking - and preventing serious accidents - where the driver did not see an obstacle. https://www.youtu...5fKzmy38 Full autonomous driving is years away - and will not come until there has been millions of hours of testing, and development of the systems. Yes they will be safer. Sure there will probably be instances in which the autopilot kills someone - but the point is that the system overall will be safer. I have two good friends who died last August in a head on collision with a truck. Truck driver had a heart attack - and crossed the median. Autopilot would not have allowed the truck to do that.
Eikka
2 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2016
Autonomous cars, unlike idiot people will not try to drive on impossible road conditions. When confronted with undriveable events, all vehicles will exit or stop safely until the dangerous condition is resolved.


That would mean 2-3 months of the year in much of the world. Your car would simply refuse to roll out of the garage because the weather report says there's black ice on the roads.

People can drive perfectly fine in conditions where AI is completely stymied, and a lot of normal road conditions don't permit sudden emergency braking without serious consequences - such as driving through a puddle that the car simply doesn't understand is there.

Eikka
2 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2016
but the point is that the system overall will be safer.


I'd rather die of my own error than a computer error, because at least I can choose how carefully I drive, whereas the computer error I have no control over.

Put it this way. Statistically speaking, road accidents happen more to people who are careless idiots. That inflates the number of accidents of the average driver. Now, if you make an automated driving system that is marginally less likely to crash than the average driver - because that's all it takes to argue that it's safer - and apply that to every driver, you've now made the careful ex-drivers more likely to crash while improving the odds for the careless.

So you arrive at a seemingly contradictory situation where less accidents happen overall, but you're still more likely to be involved in one because what used to be a few careless people crashing their cars is now spread over the entire population, since all the AI cars drive the same.

Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2016
Expanding on the previous: many real world phenomenon follow a Pareto distribution - or what is known as the 80-20 rule. It's not inconcievable or very far from the truth to claim that 80% of road accidents involve 20% of the drivers.

So as a corollary, even if you reduce road accidents by half by making every car drive by computer, that makes the other 80% of the drivers who were originally involved in 20% of the accidents see a 100% increase in road accidents.

The math goes as follows. At first 20 people have 80 accidents and 80 have 20 accidents for a total of 100 people and 100 accidents. After the swap to automated cars, 100 people have 50 accidents, where the previous group of 80 careful drivers now have a share of 40 accidents. The probability of accident for the careful 80 increases from 1/4 to 1/2 which is a 100% increase in accidents.

In other words, the automated driver is not better for the majority even when it significantly reduces the overall accident rate
Eikka
2 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2016
Truck driver had a heart attack - and crossed the median. Autopilot would not have allowed the truck to do that.


The autopilot is likely to have its own "heart attack" moments when it experiences a glitch and drives through the median.

If you want to compare freak accidents, you must understand that computers too have a proability of error. A stray cosmic ray goes through the flash memory and reboots the computer at speed, or a rusted out connector shorts the power supply and disconnects the entire computer - "whoops".

If you think about it, how many times a year does your PC crash? How many times a year would you permit it to crash if it was driving your car?
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2016
"Among these is a rear impact mitigation system which senses if a car is approaching too quickly and preconditions the interior for impact by tightening seatbelts and engaging brakes."

How does engaging the brakes help? If anything it makes a rear impact worse and more likely to happen. I own a ford fusion that has a lot of these warning devices and think that they are a worthwhile option. They are not intrusive and can be helpful during moments of inattention.
MR166
5 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2016
I could also envision cars communicating with each other and warning their drivers of problems ahead. This would help reduce pileups during sudden unexpected traffic stops.
baudrunner
5 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2016
We've most of us seen the videos showing mini-drone formation flying and the like. Each unit communicates with the other, and there can never be any collisions. Well, there is no real trick to making one-man drones the size of a smart car, kind of like a flying motorcycle, you just yank the circuitry from your drugstore ones and adapt them. They could be automatically restricted to fly higher than the highest tree in the city and sense vertical obstructions well in advance of colliding into them, and they would also communicate with one another, for the sole purpose of avoiding collisions.

Screw cars..
greenonions
5 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2016
Eikka
How many times a year would you permit it to crash if it was driving your car?
You are so afraid of the future. It does not bother me to fly in plane that is on autopilot - and I look forward to the day cars are fully autonomous. Cars have dozens of computers in them - some as many as 100 - http://www.nytime...ics.html I have never had one fail on me. As an engineer - I would have thought you would have heard of redundancy. Nothing is going to be 100% safe - the question is which system is safer. My money is on the automated system - over the human system. We will find out wont we? Mean time - go back under your desk.
EnsignFlandry
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 17, 2016
A computer controlled car? My computer acts up, crashes, freezes, etc., frequently. Been that way since I've owned computers, also at my university. The little computer in my car now acts up requiring a trip to the dealer. Computer errors happen in business every day, with billing errors, address errors, not to speak of hacking.
And they want me to TRUST a car operated and driven by a computer? Why will those computers be perfect, as well as their software?
EnsignFlandry
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 17, 2016
A car that brakes itself is not safer. It might be as safe if the driver can disable the system.

If you are driving on snow/ice and your car decides to brake, you will lose control of the car. That is decidedly not safer.


Good point. How could the computer know there is black ice on a bridge or overpass?
And I'm not afraid of the future, since I hope to be there.
greenonions
5 / 5 (3) Jan 17, 2016
Ensign
And they want me to TRUST a car operated and driven by a computer?


If you fly - you trust a plane operated and driven by computers all the time. The point being made over and over - is that the system will be safer over all. Autonomous cars as being developed currently - allow you to override the system - or to have it switched off completely. Will we ever reach a point where you cannot buy a car that is not fully autonomous? I suspect that is many decades away. Mean time - you are free to purchase a fully human operated car. Please don't try to stop others who want progress from enjoying it.
MR166
5 / 5 (2) Jan 17, 2016
Actually a computer is better at detecting icy/slippery road conditions than a human. It is certainly better better at it than most humans. Also, computerized traction/breaking/stability control systems are superior to most people who are not race drivers. Most of the poor road condition crashes I have seen happening were due to people locking up their brakes and thus loosing steering control.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2016
You are so afraid of the future. It does not bother me to fly in plane that is on autopilot


Me neither, because there are still pilots in the cabin, and because death isn't a scary thing.

However, I have had to exit one airplane in less than a minute because it was about to catch fire just before takeoff and there was smoke coming out of the ventilation. I do not place your kind of blind optimistic faith on technology and in the people who tell hyped up stories about technology from their armchairs. It's got nothing to do with fear.

a computer is better at detecting icy/slippery road conditions than a human. It is certainly better better at it than most humans.


I find that statement highly dubious - unless you mean detecting ice and slippery road at the exact moment when you're slipping on it.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2016
How could the computer know there is black ice on a bridge or overpass?


From the first car in the pileup tweeting about the ice it just spun on.

Cars have dozens of computers in them - some as many as 100


And that's why I drive a mid 90's car. The battery died recently. I did not have to take it to an offical dealership to install a new battery and get rid of the christmas lights in the dash, because the only computer that got messed up from removing the old battery was the dashboard digital clock.

The battery wouldn't accept charge anymore so the car wouldn't start after driving, but I was luckily parked next to a hardware store so I simply bought a 10mm wrench and a new battery, and swapped the old one out right there on the parking lot.

Can't do that with modern cars.
greenonions
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2016
Me neither, because there are still pilots in the cabin,
And there will still be a driver behind the wheel of the car. The autonomous cars will be safer than the ones on the road today. Can't tell you how many times I see someone weaving lanes - and you look over and they are texting. You are right - it is not about fear - it is about being intelligent - and knowing that if the data shows that system A is safer than system B - you go with system A. Now go back under your desk.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2016
Each unit communicates with the other, and there can never be any collisions.


Assuming that there can't be a collission is idiotic.

That's how software bugs are made: people assuming that something can't happen, therefore you don't need to test for that condition, and when it does happen anyways the event goes unnoticed and the program crashes horribly at some later stage.

"Redundancy" is not a magic spell that prevents these things. In things like mainframes that serve demanding customers like stock brokers, there's a concept called "five nines", which refers to an availability factor of 99.999% which is a probability that the system is down at most ~5 minutes a year. These things ARE highly redundant, and still it is costly and very very hard to make them so foolproof they wouldn't crash once every couple years.

To reduce the probability of downtime from 5 minutes to 30 seconds per year needs a factor 10 improvement in reliability.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2016
And there will still be a driver behind the wheel of the car.


Who can do jack when the computer suddenly decides to glitch out without warning and plow into a divider. At least in an airplane, you have 50,000 feet between you and imminent death - most of the time.

and knowing that if the data shows that system A is safer than system B - you go with system A. Now go back under your desk.


Your criteria of what makes the other system "safer" are imporant here. As I already pointed out, simply being safer overall does not make the system safer for you in particular, and you would be an idiot to step into such a car on the basis of personal safety.

greenonions
not rated yet Jan 17, 2016
Can't do that with modern cars.
I just changed the battery on a 2011 Honda Civic. An automotive instructor recently told me that if you get a check engine light come on - it sometimes comes from a misfire - and you can reset the system by disconnecting and reconnecting the positive battery cable. Here is youtube on how to do it without having to reprogram the radio - if that is too much trouble for you.
https://www.youtu...LDLBbmoU

https://www.youtu...KST1r2uU
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2016
And the difference between autopilot in an airplane and autopilot in a passenger car is that there are far fewer airplanes than cars. That places different reliability requirements on them.

If you're throwing one dice, the probability of getting a six is 1/6, whereas if you were throwing ten dice, the probability of NOT getting at least one six is 1/6. If the autopiloted cars were only as reliable as the autopiloted airplanes, simply the sheer number of the cars would make for a much higher rate of accidents because you're throwing more dice with them.

But that's just common sense.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2016
and you can reset the system by disconnecting and reconnecting the positive battery cable.


In many modern cars that will result in a trip to the dealership because the car refuses to start after the ECU is power cycled and you have to clear the error codes to get it going again. It's a "safety feature" because if there's power problems with the car at speed, you may lose power steering, power brakes... etc. so the response is to turn the engine off and keep it off (no bump starting) until a service person has checked that everything is ok.

Other times its the security system that kills the engine if it deduces that someone's been fiddling around.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Jan 17, 2016
Disconnecting the battery in your van will erase the computer's memory, ready indicators, and fuel trim values. (...) the computer monitors certain sensors and conditions in the vehicle like the O2 sensors, and catalyst efficiency, etc. (...) The computer does emission checks while you drive and shows either "Ready", or "Not Ready" for these checks, Ready means the computer has checked that component or condition and it is fine, "Not Ready" means the computer has not checked it. Most states allow you at least one "Not Ready" before you fail emissions test, however when you disconnected the battery that resets all the checks to "Not Ready".

Under normal driving conditions, for most vehicles, it takes about 3 trips and 50 miles for the computer to do all of its checks. The fuel trim values will take longer to learn, up to and possibly longer than 500 miles


That's another potential issue from disconnecting a battery from a modern car.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 17, 2016
http://www.aa1car...lems.htm

A disconnected battery -may- cause one of the following problems
-erases engine tune settings, causing engine to run roughly until ECU re-learns
-erases gearbox automatic shiftpoints which takes time for the ECU to re-learn
-resets a "FMEM" unit on some Ford cars which may cause failure if there's a sensor problem
-resets ABS and airbag modules, which can become unavailable until re-programmed
-resets the A/C unit, which may become unavailable until re-programmed
-resets a "BCM module", which may shut down everything from door locks to power windows and adaptive suspesion, may require re-programming

For example:

Chevy Tahoe - Loss of voltage to the vehicle electrical system causes the 4WD module to go to sleep permanently. The module never wakes back up when power is restored, and the only way to restore normal 4WD operation is to replace the module


So I wouldn't go pulling batteries on a whim.
greenonions
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2016
Who can do jack when the computer suddenly decides to glitch out without warning and plow into a divider


Again - it is a question of the overall safety of the system. Nothing is 100% safe - but the issue is the overall safety of the system. The first phase is already underway - with cars like the Tesla having some autonomous features like automatic braking in the case of an imminent crash. The systems will develop - and the roads will become safer. Sorry that you are afraid of technology - stick with your old car - and let those of us who can do math - embrace the newer safer technologies.

greenonions
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2016
Eikka
For example:
Wow - it must be really scary hiding under that desk - worrying about everything that could go wrong. I did a quick google search to see if I could find guidance on switching out batteries on modern cars. Most seem to feel that it is not a problem. Worst that may happen is the PCM will lose data - and it will take a few hours of driving to relearn the data - but nothing to get upset about. Here is a site from Car Talk - a radio show here in the U.S. that gives out car maintenance advice - pretty much sums it up. http://blog.chron...project/ Note Eika - if you are really really scared - you can go to an autoparts store - and for $15 - $20 - you can buy a little doohickie that plugs into your cigarette lighter and will keep a voltage on the computer - so that it does not lose the data.
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2016
There have been plane crashes caused by the pilots inability to override computer controls due to faulty senders. Also, autopilot is only used for landings during very specific low visibility conditions. Lastly, maintenance schedules and regulations are tightly controlled by governments which cannot be said for cars.

There is no doubt that automation can provide the driver with invaluable safety information on his surroundings and help compensate for his shortcomings but fully autonomous cars could create more accidents than they avoid.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2016
There have been plane crashes caused by the pilots inability to override computer controls due to faulty senders.

More plane crashes have been caused by pilot error than by technical failure. As a passenger I play the odds anyhow. So if I have to play the odds then I play where I get the best odds. It's that simple.
greenonions
not rated yet Jan 18, 2016
MR166
There have been plane crashes caused by the pilots inability to override computer controls due to faulty senders.
Could you please provide support for this assertion. I spent 10 minutes on google - and could find no support.

but fully autonomous cars could create more accidents than they avoid.
And they COULD (to use your word) avoid more accidents than they create. So how will we know which it is?

I am happy relying on the research of companies like Ford http://jalopnik.c...42535477 Yes I know about the Pinto. No one could deny that today's cars are safer than those of the past (air bags, seat belts, traction control, abs -etc.) All as a result of research. You guys can be so negative. Be like Eikka - keep your 1980 car, and let those of us interested in progress alone. Here - https://www.theze...history/

MR166
1 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2016
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2016
Here is a near miss that would have happened without pilots.

http://aviationwe...incident
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2016
http://www.ft.com...7de.html

So you really want to remove human from the controls eh?
greenonions
not rated yet Jan 18, 2016
MR166
Here is one


Now look closely at your statement
There have been plane crashes caused by the pilots inability to override computer controls due to faulty senders.
Air France 447 was not caused by the pilots inability to override computer controls. You are flat out a liar. None of the examples you gave are examples of your assertion. You are wrong. Screw you for being so representative of the religious morons I have to share the world with - who are willing to lie without any remorse - and are so against the progress of the human race. I will give you a quote from your last example
It was absolutely not dangerous but a little more work was expected from the pilots."
greenonions
not rated yet Jan 18, 2016
So you really want to remove human from the controls eh?
I want to let the engineers and scientists continue to do what they are currently doing. That is making our world safer. If driver less cars are safer than ones with humans behind the wheel - then I am for it. But let the facts determine where we go - not the prejudice of cowards like you and Eikka. There is a reason we still have pilots in the cockpit. The engineers are not proposing removing the pilots. I don't know if we will ever remove the pilots. But the engineers say that autopilot is safer than having a pilot at the stick - currently as long as there is a pilot sitting ready to pick up in the case of mal-function. Pilot error causes most crashes.
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2016
OK Gkam I will take my humiliation like a man and agree that my memory was wrong about the inability to override the computer. But that does not change the fact that computer/sensors caused the accident by giving the pilots faulty data.
greenonions
not rated yet Jan 18, 2016
computer/sensors caused the accident by giving the pilots faulty data.

Still false. A sensor iced over. The computer - recognizing the problem - disengaged the autopilot. The pilots were caught off guard - flew the plane into a stall - and never recovered. http://www.cnn.co...-report/ I am making 2 points here MR. Firstly - you post stuff without checking the details. This is a science site. We all mess up sometimes - and others call us on the error. I did that with you - and you doubled down. At that point - it goes past an error of memory - into blatant dishonesty. Senond - you and Eikka are relentless haters on progress. It does not matter how many times your garbage is exposed - you both just appear right on the next article - same cycle over again. You show no remorse.

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