Trillium Automobile Dealers Association

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Driverless cars?
No thanks

Published Saturday August 23, 2014

Let me set the record straight: I am not an anti-technology puritan who pines for the pre-smartphone era.

     I love my electronic gadgets and derive much pleasure and enjoyment from them. But when technology threatens the make the act of driving redundant, I must put my foot down.

     I'm not talking about technology that operates in the background, which allows vehicles to perform self-diagnostics, or transmit information automatically to the manufacturer or to a local new car dealership.

     My concern with in-car technologies centres around the push to develop driverless cars. Google has been experimenting with them in select U.S. states, and in June the search engine giant unveiled a two-seater prototype that boasts no steering wheel or gas or brake pedals.

     The Google car is summoned with a smartphone and it transports individuals to their destination using sensors and software. Passengers don't have to steer, brake or check blind spots.

     Tech companies and automakers are convinced that drivers will soon be replaced by algorithms. But if drivers are so adamant about not driving, they should take public transportation.

     Aside from the technological hurdles with driverless cars, there are liability and regulatory issues that need to be addressed as well. Who's at fault when these cars malfunctions? Google? The automaker? The driver?    

     Plus, technology isn't infallible. We all know how GPS systems can send drivers wildly off course because of computer glitches; driverless cars would be subject to similar vulnerabilities, not to mention computer viruses and cyberattacks.

     Truth is: I enjoy driving too much to surrender complete control of my car to technology. I like the grip of the steering wheel, the assurance in knowing that I'm in control of braking and accelerating, and the freedom to make snap driving decisions if I have to.

     Some vehicles today offer adjustable components, which makes driving more exciting. For instance, Audi has a feature called Drive Select that allows drivers to alternate between sport driving and comfort driving by controlling the steering, suspension, throttle response and transmission shift characteristics.  

     Is driving occasionally tedious? Yes. But there are features that alleviate that boredom, such as cruise control, air conditioning, audio systems, and hands-free technology.

     But how much technology is too much? Apple recently announced a plan to introduce its CarPlay into several new vehicles later this year. It's a service that will allow drivers to access iOS functionality using voice activation and touch controls.

     At face value, CarPlay looks like a great way to manage information - and stay connected - while driving. But it begs the question: At what point does more technology inside our cars become a potential liability?

     Some drivers are impressed with bigger screens and new gadgets, but instead of cramming more technologies into cars, there should be a greater emphasis on safer driving.

     As onboard technologies have flourished, so too have distracted-related car crashes. The OPP has reported the distracted driving caused more deaths in 2013 than drinking and driving.

     Maybe we should be asking if driver training programs are adequate in preparing new drivers. Are licensed drivers being tested often enough so that their skills remain sharp? Are penalties for distracted driving enough of a deterrent?

     Daily, I see motorists texting and driving, fiddling with their handsets and mishandling their automobiles, endangering themselves and others.  

     Is the move towards more technology and driverless cars really the answer? Autonomous cars might be feasible for small confined areas, like parking lots or subdivisions designed specifically for those types of vehicles. But not for everyday roads and highways.

     I welcome technologies that make driving more comfortable, efficient, enjoyable and safer. But if fancy technologies are driving us to distraction and causing more accidents, then it's time to reestablish our priorities.

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