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Auto Safety Tech May Encourage Dangerous Driving

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the peltzman-effect dept.

Transportation 601

longacre writes "Modern highway planning schemes designed to make roads safer combined with the comfort and safety technology found in the modern automobile may actually be putting us in danger, according to a compelling piece in Popular Mechanics. Citing studies and anecdotal evidence, the article points out that a driver on a narrow mountain road will probably drive as if their life depends on it; but the same driver on an eight-lane freeway with gradual curves and little traffic may be lulled into speeding while chatting on his cellphone. Quoting: 'Modern cars are quiet, powerful and capable of astonishing grip in curves, even on wet pavement. That's swell, of course, until you suddenly lose traction at 75 mph. The sense of confidence bred by all this capability makes us feel safe, which causes us to drive faster than we probably should. We don't want to make cars with poor response, but perhaps we could design cues — steering-wheel vibration devices, as in video games? — that make us feel less safe at speed and encourage more care. ... In college I drove an Austin-Healey 3000 that somehow felt faster at 45 mph than my Mazda RX-8 (or even my Toyota Highlander Hybrid) feels at 75 mph. That was a good thing.'"

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No kidding! (4, Interesting)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231771)

I drove an MG for several years and became a better driver for it. And "driver" is the word. People nowadays expect their automobiles to be living rooms on wheels so it is no wonder they don't have a sense of "road feel". This is the same psychology that attempts to hide from airline passengers the fact you're in an airplane. Compare riding in a small plane to an airliner. The modern airliner is as close to not flying as you can get. We spend an inordinate amount of time watching, using and living in machines.

Re:No kidding! (3, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231909)

A modern airliner is actually safer than the usual small plane (Cessna etc).

Things would be safer if they required all drivers to be as skilled, trained, responsible as a typical airliner pilot.

But then most drivers would fail, and they would have transport problems. Politicians would lose lots of votes.

Re:No kidding! (4, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232677)

A modern airliner is actually safer than the usual small plane (Cessna etc). Things would be safer if they required all drivers to be as skilled, trained, responsible as a typical airliner pilot. But then most drivers would fail, and they would have transport problems. Politicians would lose lots of votes.

The point you raise about safety brought something else to mind. The emphasis the summary placed on speeding really did not sit well with me. Generally speaking, it works this way:

Speeding == a way to generate revenue for the state while talking a good game about safety. Failure to yield, following too closely == two things that receive very little emphasis which cause a hell of a lot more preventable accidents that speeding could ever cause.

A close third would be those people who don't seem to understand the purpose of the passing lane and why they create a hazard for everyone else when they try to monopolize it. Ideally, drivers should have patience for this and value safety above immediate gratification. However, the reality is that if you make it that tempting for people to weave in and out of lanes or to cut right in front of you because there's no other way to get by you, they will do it, count on it. The people who do this should know what situation they are setting up.

Like the summary, I am of course speaking of highways. I think speeding can be an important issue when you're talking about a residental area where there might be pedestrians walking or children playing. The mistake is to think that this must be some sort of universal truth because of such a special case. When you cover a few basics like discouraging tailgaters and not allowing the pacers to hang out in your blind spot, speeding in and of itself is hardly a threat on an open highway. If you don't cover those basics, strictly obeying the speed limit isn't going to do very much for you if something unexpected happens.

Re:No kidding! (5, Interesting)

Threni (635302) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231993)

What's wrong with being in a plane not being like flying? I fly to get where I'm going, not to 'fly'. Flying is boring - you're trapped in an uncomfortable chair with bad food for 12 hours, and if you open the little plastic window thing to look outside a stern woman comes and hits you with a stick and tells you to close it. I want to 'not fly' as often as possible, thanks.

Re:No kidding! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232571)

Mod parent up.

Re:No kidding! (1)

cbiltcliffe (186293) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232103)

Anybody who's driven a fair amount in Europe, on narrow, twisty roads, then goes to somewhere like Australia, or North America, with huge straight roads and freeways, knows this instinctively.

Why did it take this long to figure it out?

Re:No kidding! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232653)

So what you're saying is that Europe got it all wrong and needs to redesign it's roadways?

Whoever the fuck thinks we need to slow cars down obviously lives in Europe, where some entire countries are as small as some US State *counties*.

Fuck slowing cars down, or adding retarded "enhancements" like steering-wheel vibration... How about not putting in $2000 worth of dampening technology? How about implementing more rigorous license testing?

When I street race my friends, I drive like a race-car driver, that is to say that the only life at risk is my own. The very *moment* a stranger approaches or I approach a stranger, I drive like my life is at stake, and like I am responsible for that strangers life.

Fuck all you text messaging/cellphoners mis-driving and acting like it's ok to kill a stranger. And fuck all you European commies and socialists while you're at it... guzzling up all the good diesel :(

IDK WTF anyone is comparing too! (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232681)

I may be dumb, young, and crazy, but last I knew, the level of speed SHOULD go up on a straight flat road verses a mountain pass.

Re:No kidding! (3, Informative)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232153)

Unfortunately, those who need it the most [] will be the ones who fight it the hardest.

But rather than look for ways to fight our nature, embrace it and make the car a living room. Take the steering wheel out of the hands of our admittedly poor hands and automate it.

The modern airliner is also as close to 'not flying' for the pilot. If they can take something as complicated as that and automate it to the point where you just need the equivalent of a dead man switch for the majority of the flight, you can do it for those long stretches of highway/freeway.

Re:No kidding! (2, Interesting)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232325)

And then you run out of fuel halfway between Edmonton and Montreal and suddenly start flying a 150 ton glider [] ...

Or you run into a flock of birds and both engines flame out...

Re:No kidding! (2, Interesting)

profplump (309017) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232641)

There's no reason autopilot wouldn't work for a glider either. Even with the engine out the plane is still generally operable -- without power sufficient to run the autopilot you wouldn't have hydraulics, and it would be a 150 rock, not a 150 ton glider, no matter who was steering the thing.

Now selecting a non-airport landing site, or landing someplace without well-defined runways or approaches is another problem altogether.

But I don't see why we couldn't just have one or two ground-based remote pilots available for emergencies. In the case of a serious failure a senior non-pilot crew member could push a button to enable remote control (hence negating the possibility of a remote attack on the control systems), and someone sitting in a simulator in St. Louis could try to land the plane for them. It's not quite the same has having a pilot actually in the plane, but it's a lot cheaper, and you could have just a handful of very good pilots that actually spend a lot of time doing emergency landings and related training, rather than a bunch of mediocre (and I mean that in a statistical sense, not as a slight to pilots; most people are average) pilots who rarely perform emergency landings.

Re:No kidding! (4, Insightful)

Kabuthunk (972557) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232481)

The problem there is that jets aren't flying 10 feet from eachother, and aren't controlled by road-raging madmen swerving around traffic dangerously to attempt to save 30 seconds from their trip.

Long story short, it will never happen on the ground. Even if spontaneously every single car in the country (or even world) were changed at the same time to all be as automatic as jet (and hell, for the sake of it, we'll say even antique or older cars were also changed to be automatic somehow), you WILL have tons of people who will find a way to change it manual again so that they can CONTINUE driving like madmen even moreso now, because all the OTHER cars on the road are so predictable now.

Re:No kidding! (4, Funny)

johnny cashed (590023) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232383)

I repaired an MG for several years and became a better mechanic for it.

There, fixed it for you.

Re:No kidding! (1)

N1ck0 (803359) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232591)

Maybe we should have a drivers education program and testing system that actually requires people to know how to really drive. Include items like driving on wet pavement, snow, ice, recovering from a real skid and hydroplaning. Driving programs in the United States are a joke, and then when a majority of people actually loose traction, panic stop, or generally do something wrong they stop and go into utter panic because they never had it happen before.

Maybe finland has the right idea...according to Top Gear they start at about 9 years old and take several years of classes (Or according to some schools if you spend 4 hours every day training you can pass in just 6 weeks; whereas in the US its 30mins of training and 4-6 hours standing in line at the DMV)

Re:No kidding! (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232679)

Why not do this:
Instead of points and getting rid of someone's license, start removing safety features from their car. The more likely they are to die from an accident, the less likely they are to be reckless!

Get rid of the windshields! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27231805)

That is the thing that encourages the reckless behaviour.

And make it a crime to wear pants while driving. Your ass and sex parts should be exposed to the potential danger as God intends.

And add a large spike between the legs of the driver.

Re:Get rid of the windshields! (2, Insightful)

collywally (1223456) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232289)

That's close to how it feels riding my motorcycle.

Solution: Motorcycles (2, Insightful)

Stone Rhino (532581) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231807)

And that is why you need a vehicle that gives you engagement with the world, without protective systems or even a windshield. When you've got wind blasting in your face, you don't want to go past 65 mph.

Re:Solution: Motorcycles (5, Funny)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231875)

Not according to my dog.

Re:Solution: Motorcycles (1)

Timberwolf0122 (872207) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232339)

And that my friends is why I love to drive my lifted Jeep. No top, No doors, No windshield, No ABS, No Stability control and a high center of gravity.

Re:Solution: Motorcycles (2, Insightful)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232503)

ROFL, right, which must explain all the high speed motorcycle accidents that happen every year once the weather gets good...

Re:Solution: Motorcycles (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232535)

That's true, with that much wind I've never had the balls to push my bike past 165 on the interstate, the fear of death just keeps nagging at me until I slow down to 120 or so.

Motorcycles rock.

Only problem (1, Informative)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231831)

There are a lot more accidents on windy mountain roads than on motorways.

are you sure? (3, Insightful)

Chirs (87576) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231861)

Do you have stats to back this up, or are you handwaving?

I'd expect most accidents to be in urban centers simply because that's where most of the cars are.

Re:are you sure? (2, Informative)

john83 (923470) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232471)

You seem to be right, based on a random assortment of numbers from this site [] .

Interestingly, the numbers killed seem to be higher in rural areas in spite of this, which is more in line with my guess based on news reports over the years.

Re:Only problem (2, Insightful)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231957)

Is that by number of miles driven?

Most accident stats are reported on the bases of number of miles driven, so a rarely used road would have a lower absolute number of accidents on it.

Re:Only problem (1)

collywally (1223456) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232475)

How about the Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia? []

From the Link:

Crashes occur up to three times more often than the provincial average, and average annual ICBC claims for the road are over $11 million.

Re:Only problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232195)

The argument is that people drive more safely when they feel threatened. There should be more accidents on windy mountain roads because they are more dangerous. However, holding road danger constant people get into more accidents on wide safe freeways than they should. This would indicate that something besides road danger caused it. If that something besides road danger happens to be lack of respect for the danger of drivers actions, adding a bit of appropriate fear feedback sounds like a good thing.

Re:Only problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232395)

Almost 60% of accidents in the US are rear or side-impact collisions. These tend to occur at intersections. Windy mountain roads don't tend to have a whole bunch of intersections.

Mountain roads tend to have fixed-object collisions, animal-car collisions and head-ons which account for less than 25% of accidents (but over 40% of fatalities). And I'd be really surprised if even half (hell, a quarter) of those occur on twisty roadways.

What mountain roads do account for around here (hill country of Tennessee) is almost all bicycle fatalities. And those are almost invariably due to the bicycle going downhill too fast and crossing into oncoming traffic in the corners. (seriously, bikists, you have eeny little contact patches and jokes for brakes... you will NEVER corner like a car)

Best Road Safety Feature... (4, Funny)

Bazman (4849) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231887)

Compulsory big spike in the middle of the steering wheel.

Remember Ralph Nader? (5, Insightful)

crovira (10242) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232385)

When he wrote "Unsafe At Any Speed" people were still getting impaled by their steering wheels which didn't collapse and crumple out of the drivers way.

I remember as a kid driving by an accident where most of the car was torn away except for the engine and the steering column which we sticking up and through the young woman who'd been driving the car.

The other car that had slammed into her from the back and propelled her into traffic in the intersection was also dead from the impact with his steering column.

I'll never be able to wipe that image from my mind so ... joke away but realize that the idiots behind the wheels were sometimes innocent victims.

Re:Best Road Safety Feature... (0)

GRH (16141) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232615)

This idea was actually discussed in this recent book called "Traffic" (

It also talks about the article's premise that safer roads and cars cause complacency, which leads to accidents. A very interesting book if you're into this kind of thing.

feedback (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27231889)

Drive with the top down or the windows open

Safety is bad (4, Funny)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231905)

This is why I replaced the seatbelts with deadly snakes, and the airbags with big metal spikes.

Learn to drive. (5, Insightful)

qoncept (599709) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231935)

The problem isn't the safe car. It's the idiot driving it.

The Alabama region SCCA has a new driver car control clinic program that teaches kids around the age of 16 how to handle a car when it loses control. The courses look like regular autox courses and it truly makes a huge difference in their ability and confindence, without making them feel like they can drive dangerously. []

Re:Learn to drive. (1, Insightful)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232073)

But the idiot driving it is relying on the airbags, crumple zones, seatbelts, anti-lock brakes and rack and peanut steering to keep Darwin at bay.

Everyone's a great driver when they take the test; once that's over complicity kicks in.

Re:Learn to drive. (0)

qoncept (599709) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232235)

Good drivers are good drivers when they aren't taking the test. And no one is driving around thinking "I'll drive like an idiot because the airbags will save me." They stop paying attention because they don't appreciate the danger of driving stupid.

Re:Learn to drive. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232537)

I never took an official course, but I did grow up in Maine. Before I even got my license, my dad would take me out on a (very) frozen lake and let me feel what it was like to try and recover from skids and such. And I tell you what, that experience has saved me on plenty of icy roads.

Re:Learn to drive. (0)

smithtuna33 (1205488) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232609)

This, this, and more this. The problem isn't the car's comfort and safety features, it's the moron behind the wheel who has no idea how to drive properly and no idea how to react in a dangerous situation. We give out drivers licenses like they're candy in this country. It's no wonder so many teens die in car wrecks... and kill other innocent drivers. They have maybe a couple of months rolling around their safe little neighborhoods with Mom or Dad in the car and no real preparation for what the road can throw at you. This article is worthless, basically. Driver education is the issue here... not car design.

Robotic cars may be the answer (1)

serutan (259622) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231941)

It won't be anytime soon, but I'm looking forward to the day when human drivers are completely out of the loop. I'm sure robotic cars will be highly controversial, and any accidents caused by technical failures will bring out the angry mobs with torches, but improving on the current rate of highway deaths per year seems like a pretty achievable target. If human-driven cars were a new invention today, they probably wouldn't be legal.

Re:Robotic cars may be the answer (2, Funny)

DirtyUncleRon69 (1492865) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232079)

We could put all the cars on the same one lane road (in each direction), and they could link up to each other. This would allow less wind resistance and only one car would pull (or push) all the rest. We could call this a "train"

Re:Robotic cars may be the answer (0)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232427)

Reasonable enough design except it doesn't come to my door. I saw something like this though, where a low powered motor takes you in your individual pod to a station where it hooks to other cars and is towed to another station where you are let lose to make your final jaunt. Car at the destination ends but train in the middle. Although I would say rent the smaller engine base at the station and only haul the people containers. I'd be on board for such a system especially if renting meant I didn't have to perform standard maintenance on my engines.

Re:Robotic cars may be the answer (0)

Klaus_1250 (987230) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232529)

Some of us actually like driving. Robotic cars sounds nice, but what does that say about humans? We're evolved, just not evolved enough to drive a car? No one should be allowed to drive by hand, because some are incapable of doing so safely? Because some of us are obsessed by statistics? Perhaps it is me, but what is this obsession of improving the ... deaths per year at all and any costs?

Not new news (0)

bobjr94 (1120555) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231945)

People have been saying that ever since ABS brakes came out, saying they are driving faster because they think they can stop faster....Then air bags saying it was because drivers think they would not get hurt in a wreck....Maybe people in general are just driving faster for no real reason.

Re:Not new news (1)

Ontheotherhand (796949) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232559)

Personally, I drive faster (responsibly. and no phone) because my car is faster than it used to be. (Anyone heard of the vauxhall viva?) But I drive more slowly around town, probably 20mph tops. that's because I am a parent.

Re:Not new news (2, Insightful)

aarmenaa (712174) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232675)

Maybe people in general are just driving faster for no real reason.

Maybe people drive faster because it's such a frustrating situation, at least in the US. I drive to work every morning, and drive home every afternoon, in rush hour traffic. I really have no choice in the matter. My employer says I will be at work at 9 am, and I can leave at 5 pm. There is no public transit that would get me where I want to go and the apartments near where I work are way out of my price range. It takes me half an hour and two toll roads that cost over $2 a day. If I don't take the toll roads it's even longer in the car.

It really grinds my nerves that voters continue shoot down competent public transportation, but I can't drive anywhere without seeing miles of road covered in orange cones, snarling traffic for miles because the already congested highway system is in need of expansion (half the reason it takes so long to drive anywhere in the first place). And by the time they finish the work (five years from now) they'll just have to start again. I really just hate driving. Even without all the traffic, I'd rather just get on a train and have someone else do the driving. You can drive and eat breakfast, listen to music, and basically turn your car into a living room, but you need only see rush hour once to see that everyone does it poorly. Traffic would probably move faster if people didn't try. Or if they had another option for eating that breakfast while commuting.

Duh. (-1, Redundant)

sootman (158191) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231963)

Want safer drivers? Put an 8" steel spike in the center of the steering wheel.

Is there an analogy that could help? (5, Funny)

Ontheotherhand (796949) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231971)

I'm racking my brains, but i just keep coming back to the car thing.

Windows analogy... (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232507)

It's just like Windows, Microsoft has to put all that annoying crap in there to force people to be better users.

err.... wait a second...


Re:Is there an analogy that could help? (1)

ChefInnocent (667809) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232549)

It's like maintenance coding with comments. If you can normally do maintenance in code without comments and 3-character variable names, then you tend to learn the language in depth, and learn to find the clues hidden beneath. But if you only have done maintenance on well documented code with good comments, variable names, and functions, then you are likely to get lost if any of those are missing or incorrect. So, we should all learn to maintain assembly before we move on to nicer languages like C++ and JavaScript.

everything old is new again (5, Funny)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 5 years ago | (#27231999)

perhaps we could design cues -- steering-wheel vibration devices, as in video games?

You act like this would be an innovation, but my 1990 Geo Prizm had this feature, in a compact car no less! If ever I got above 75 mph, the entire vehicle would start to shudder.

Re:everything old is new again (5, Funny)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232149)

Oh I want a mod point.

I have taken my Prizm up to 90mph, but damn if I didn't have the feeling it'd turn into the Bluesmobile if I kept it there too long. (I'm talking at the very end of the movie, not the cool bits where it's jumping bridges).

Re:everything old is new again (4, Insightful)

Hodar (105577) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232169)

The only thing worse than not having a parachute, is having one that doesn't open.

If we 'teach' people to ignore warnings that their car is losing tractions, such as wheel vibration, we are taking an active role killing people. There are reasons we have traffic laws, policemen with laser and radar, and traffic courts.

All we can, or should do, is punish stupid behavior. Teaching people to ignore danger signals, will simply lead to people ignore a very serious warning. I'd much rather see someone in traffic court paying a hefty fine, having their insurance fees jacked up and possibly lose driving priviledges - than see them dead. This is especially true, because we all know that when a traffic accident occurs, the people killed are often innocent passengers, and/or another totally innocent vehicle who simply got in the way.

Re:everything old is new again (1)

ElSupreme (1217088) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232521)

Yeah my first car, a 1996 Dodge Neon had the death rattle at about 70 mph. And the window seals broke open at about 60 mph making for a really loud ride. Granted the main thing preventing me from driving it faster was the fact it took about 90 seconds to get from 70 to 80. And about as long to get back to 70.

Drive on my local highways (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232001)

Just drive on my local highways during moderate traffic. You'll never feel safe again.

Rush hour is actually safer since nobody is moving anyways.

Re:Drive on my local highways (1)

nomessages (1160509) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232163)

You live in Houston too?

Re:Drive on my local highways (1)

collywally (1223456) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232519)

Sounds like Vancouver, BC to me...

Re:Drive on my local highways (1)

sheph (955019) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232617)

Or maybe you live in: Boise, ID LA, CA Seattle, WA Phoenix, AZ or... It's that way in every major city I've ever driven in. A common problem I see here (Boise, ID) is everyone wants to be first, and then when they are they want to sit on the phone and drive 10 mph below the speed limit. We don't need safty features to protect these guys. What we need is vehicles equiped with laser beams to eliminate them.

impression of speed (1)

naeone (1430095) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232009)

its all about impression of speed. most modern cars dont 'feel' fast at a ton (100mph) where as 1970's level tech is shaking itself to bits at that speed. and certainly not comfortable to maintain that speed for any distance

Anonymous Coward (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232025)

Basic economics says that we we are endowed with something like safer cars, we will use:

1) Part of it to actually increase safety, and
2) part of it to trade-off against things like speed, convenience, etc.

The fallacy that the headline implies is that safer cars lead to less safety.

Self-correcting? (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232027)

It may just take time for people to adjust. Once bitten, twice shy... someone who loses traction going very fast around a curve will think twice before going that fast again. If they die... well, that's one more careless/reckless driver off the roads.

People have been driving cars on raods for what, a little over 100 years now? as time has gone by, the safe driving speed has continued to climb... yet there have always been people driving too fadt for their vehicles and driving conditions. Adding artificial feedback for driving at high speeds is a crutch for people who learned to drive in a bygone era.

Seriously. Just because *some people* got used to driving with different feedback from high speeds doesn't mean that we should all put in feedback mechanisms to 'warn' us when we go fast.

In short... in the US, only old people need high-speed feedback in their new cars. The rest of the drivers can use feedback mechanisms such as "the speedometer" and "vision" to realize they are driving fast.

What would be useful is pushing awareness of how much driving conditions and speed affect traction, etc. And educating young drivers that if they drive fast, they should make sure their car (and tires!) can handle it.

Re:Self-correcting? (2, Insightful)

egburr (141740) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232221)

The rest of the drivers can use feedback mechanisms such as "the speedometer" and "vision" to realize they are driving fast.

The speedometer only tells you how fast you are moving, it tells you nothing about whether that is too fast for current conditions.

The feel of the car provides the best clues about whether you're going too fast, but modern cars do their best to mask that as much as possible, because it interferes with your other distractions.

In short, we are our own worst enemy (2, Insightful)

EIHoppe (1430351) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232035)

People will always behave at the lowest level of intellectual output that will keep them safe--if you perceive that the road is engineered to keep you safe (banked curves, wide lanes, etc.), you will put less effort into ensuring your safety.

The issue is that when everyone behaves as such, what you end up with is what we have: a bunch of idiots with rapidly moving large hunks of metal and plastic, most of whom are relatively oblivious to what is around them simply because they don't feel they need to pay attention.

The quote by Hans Monderman in the article rings true: "When you treat people like idiots, they'll behave like that."

Of course, with everything how it is, chances are good that things won't be changing anytime soon--people tend to want to be lazy, and a lot of attempts to change, say, intersections with traffic lights (or stop signs) to circles will be met with stiff opposition by drivers who, unfamiliar with circles, will balk at the lack of "safety" because there's no automatic indicator saying that they can step on the gas pedal now.

Makes you wonder where the hell situational awareness and the general sense of self-preservation up and went, doesn't it?


Stimulating! (1)

Gizzmonic (412910) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232061)

Look, I'm all in favor of these advanced cars lulling me into a false sense of safety. That way I can convince girls to give me road head [] , especially when I'm on drugs!

Get a Speederaser-I (1)

cellurl (906920) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232065)

I use a Speederaser-I that helps me use my cruise control more often, even off-highway.
If I turn the cruise off, it goes away.
Cheap and handy. []

Risk Compensation (5, Interesting)

WH44 (1108629) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232111)

This is a well known effect known as "Risk Compensation" (Wikipedia) [] . The most famous study showing the effect was on a fleet of taxis in Munich equipped with Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS).

Loved the quote (1)

olddotter (638430) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232145)

"In college I drove an Austin-Healey 3000 that somehow felt faster at 45 mph than my Mazda RX-8 (or even my Toyota Highlander Hybrid) feels at 75 mph. That was a good thing."

Not only was it a good thing, but it probably made the Austin-Healey MORE FUN TO DRIVE. That is a very GOOD thing in my book.

I love to point out this blog post to car crazy friends: []

Don't believe me, consider this; a new stock Honda Accord V6 (boring right?) can out accelerate most stock muscle cars from the muscle car era. This is due to a decrease in car weight, better transmissions, and more advanced engines. You have to wonder why a "boring, practical" car needs to be able to out accelerate some of the fastest cars made.

There is more to it. (1)

ITJC68 (1370229) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232167)

This argument is slightly flawed. Part of the issue is people on the road are more aggressive, drive with the cell phone in their ear, and are not courteous to their fellow drivers. From someone who has driven since the early 80's driving is way more dangerous now. In my state (IL) at least they have parents take their kids out for documented hours and must go through a drivers education course. Some will say that it is not enough but as a parent who just went through it less then 2 years ago it is a start. I made my child wait an extra year. Not ready for the license yet. Designing roads to slow people down won't solve the problems here. The problems in my area are there are not enough roads or enough flow on the local roads for the population. So then people get angry for having to ride in the passing lane of a 4 lane roadway behind someone who is just doing the speed limit so they display how they can whip through traffic even if the person they cut off has to slam on the brakes and almost cause accidents if not cause em. To get to the root of the problem the authorities need to increase the flow capacity of the roads but also need to enforce the current traffic laws and make it so painful to break the law that people won't. A 50 dollar ticket is not enough. Make it 500 and people will think twice. I know I will.

Re:There is more to it. (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232401)

I'm fond of Finland's method, where the cost of the fine is proportional to your yearly income.

Sure, it might make the police department start going after more Beemers, Ferraris, Mustangs...but they're also the ones who can easily afford a ticket.

I blame comfort (1)

Strange Ranger (454494) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232171)

I don't think its the safety technology or performance ability that's mostly to blame. It's the "comfortable drive".
At some point the ability to feel the road and get actual feedback from your car became "uncomfortable". My wife's 2005 V6 Camry was a perfect example. Full of power, features like "traction control", and great cornering, yet it felt like driving a hovercraft. No feedback whatsoever. And the throttle was slow to respond when you needed a quick leap into moving traffic. There was a very palpable "pause & glide". Meaning even the gear ratio was for "comfort". I would describe it as a wonderfully built car that was dumbed down terribly for people who don't like feeling like they're driving. It was a version of "comfort" that made me very uncomfortable.

Her new no-frills Matrix 4-banger is a car for drivers. You can feel exactly what you're doing in that car and it responds very quickly. Much more economical too.

A legislative issue meets an engineering one.. (1)

GPLDAN (732269) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232193)

Let us take a look, shall we, at what kind of car the Healey was. Here's a nice pic: []

Steel hood, cast iron frame, cast iron block. If you hit a truck tire with that thing, your head is going through the windshield, the car would likely buck straight up, and AH's had a nasty tendency to roll over because they were so rigid.

Driving that car at 45 was inherently more dangerous than driving a modern Caddy at 75 or even 80. ABS, Traction Control, the removal of those bias-ply tires in favor of ones that will shed water easily and grip 100x better.

The problem is - quite simply - speed limits. Re-instate the national 55 limit. There are certainly enough cops out there to enforce it, and enough new cheap portable radar gear to make it enforced. Do not confuse an engineering problem with one that requires a legislative remedy. This is clearly a case where we do not need more technology to let us know we are driving unsafe. We already have cars that can brake automatically when detecting an upcoming collision, can make note of late swerving, and cars that can smell our breath. We don't need cars that tell us when our driving sucks. Just make everyone slow down.

Re:A legislative issue meets an engineering one.. (1, Interesting)

dsglkdpse (1290092) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232561)

55 is not the answer for safety. Both the roads and cars are designed to safely handle faster traffic. Also, for true interstate travel, I would argue 55 is actually more dangerous. If someone is taking a long trip, the more time it takes, the more fatigued they will become and the more dangerous they will be behind the wheel. If you can cut two to three hours off their trip, they will be more alert and a safer driver. It might also mean the difference between not getting enough sleep prior to the trip or not. The biggest safety issue with highway speeds is lack of conformity. The people that choose to drive 45 because they feel safer actually imped and endanger other drivers. Everyone just needs to go with the flow -- not excessively faster or slower. Traffic enforcement needs to go after both cases.

Arguement bears merit (1)

thebheffect (1409105) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232199)

This can be paralleled in the increase in protection used by American football players over the years, and the unchanged number of serious injuries in the game.

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis as applies to usability. (0)

Morbid Curiosity (156888) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232213)

Back in 1988, an Airbus A320 crashed at an air show during low-level flight manoeuvres. The brand new fly-by-wire systems made the plane easier to control in situations that a non-wire flight system would have problems. By making it that easy, the system also made it easier for pilots to push closer to the unstable edges of that envelope without the same level of feedback that things could go wrong. Things went wrong. People died.

Twenty years later, we're still learning the same lessons, it seems.

all hail germany (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232245)

driving 200kph on a highway is fucking legal!
and thats not the limit!
hell yeah!

There may be something to this (1)

Hausenwulf (956554) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232255)

While driving in ice or snow, the bulk of cars I see in the ditch are SUVs. It seems like the drivers of those things think they don't have to drive more carefully in bad weather like the rest of us.

Re:There may be something to this (1)

ari_j (90255) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232331)

That may be part of the cause. But the root cause boils down to them all being stupider than the average driver.

My favorite solution (1)

kheldan (1460303) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232263)

Make everyone learn to ride a motorcycle for a couple years. Not only will they have an abiding respect for speed, the road, and the laws of physics, but they'll pay more attention to whether there are motorcycles on the road with them or not.

Re:My favorite solution (1)

ari_j (90255) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232355)


Re:My favorite solution (1)

bakawolf (1362361) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232443)

don't forget to make them illegal two years later when motorcycle deaths skyrocket

wrong problem (3, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232271)

The problem here isn't improvements in technology but rather user expectations. This should be a familiar problem to almost everyone here. What's amazing about this is that there are so many drivers on the road with little or no formal training, there aren't more accidents. These are people who are routinely lulled into a sense of security because they repeatedly engage in dangerous behavior without consequences. Well, what's the natural, human, thing to do when you do something a hundred times without ill-effect? You assume it's safe. You've driven with that 64 oz big gulp between your legs, a cheeseburger propped up on your leg, fries in the cup holder, while talking to a friend in the next seat doing the same thing how many times? Too many to count. And you haven't been in an accident. It's precisely this erosion of standards that leads to accidents, and the ONLY -- and I repeat ONLY -- way to safeguard against it is routine training.

Which is the one thing nobody will ever agree to, because they think driving is a right, not a priviledge. Afterall, it's all those other jerks that are causing problems, not me, right? Just like how something like 90% of drivers think they're "above average", huh. If you want to solve the accident rate problem, the solution is training and certification by a competent authority and stiff punishments for non-compliance with those standards. Hard pill to swallow though, as entrenched as the automobile is in our culture and the sense of entitlement -- even repeat DUI offenders insist they should have their license.

Excellent article addressing that point: (5, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232293)

In particular, how SUVs separate the driver's experience from the road in a dangerous way. And on the shopping habits of American car buyers in general. It's a favorite article of mine.

Big and Bad: How the S.U.V. ran over automotive safety []

"In the Jetta, the engine is clearly audible. The steering is light and precise. The brakes are crisp. The wheelbase is short enough that the car picks up the undulations of the road. The car is so small and close to the ground, and so dwarfed by other cars on the road, that an intelligent driver is constantly reminded of the necessity of driving safely and defensively. An S.U.V. embodies the opposite logic. The driver is seated as high and far from the road as possible. The vehicle is designed to overcome its environment, not to respond to it. Even four-wheel drive, seemingly the most beneficial feature of the S.U.V., serves to reinforce this isolation. Having the engine provide power to all four wheels, safety experts point out, does nothing to improve braking, although many S.U.V. owners erroneously believe this to be the case. Nor does the feature necessarily make it safer to turn across a slippery surface: that is largely a function of how much friction is generated by the vehicle's tires. All it really does is improve what engineers call trackingâ"that is, the ability to accelerate without slipping in perilous conditions or in deep snow or mud. Champion says that one of the occasions when he came closest to death was a snowy day, many years ago, just after he had bought a new Range Rover. "Everyone around me was slipping, and I was thinking, Yeahhh. And I came to a stop sign on a major road, and I was driving probably twice as fast as I should have been, because I could. I had traction. But I also weighed probably twice as much as most cars. And I still had only four brakes and four tires on the road. I slid right across a four-lane road. " Four-wheel drive robs the driver of feedback. "The car driver whose wheels spin once or twice while backing out of the driveway knows that the road is slippery," Bradsher writes. "The SUV driver who navigates the driveway and street without difficulty until she tries to brake may not find out that the road is slippery until it is too late. " Jettas are safe because they make their drivers feel unsafe. S.U.V.s are unsafe because they make their drivers feel safe. That feeling of safety isn't the solution; it's the problem."

A solution from House, M.D. (3, Funny)

ari_j (90255) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232303)

"If you want people to drive safer, take out the airbag and attach a machete pointed at their neck."

Antilock Braking Systems... (2, Interesting)

phillymjs (234426) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232327)

...are the bane of my existence. I used to have a '94 Grand Am, and the ABS control chip failed in it-- a failure which manifested itself in a particularly terrifying way: Occasionally when I would attempt to apply the brake, the pedal would go straight to the floor and not actually activate the brakes. At all. I'd have to quickly take my foot off and reapply. Luckily it never happened in a situation where I would have had to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. You can bet your ass I got that little problem fixed in a hurry, because there's no feeling like stepping on the pedal and finding that the brakes aren't fucking there.

Now, I drive a Scion Xa with what can only be called an overzealous ABS. If I'm braking and happen to hit a pothole or bump hard enough, the ABS is triggered and suddenly my stopping distance is not going to be less than the distance to the bumper of the car in front of me. Once again, the solution is to quickly take my foot off and then reapply. I have had to learn where the trouble spots are on the roads I frequent and brake very carefully when approaching them, always ready to lift my foot and then brake again if necessary.

I kinda wish ABS was something that could be toggled by the driver... it has its uses, but IME it's been more of a pain in the ass than a lifesaver.


Re:Antilock Braking Systems... (1)

pherthyl (445706) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232485)

So the first time you had a broken part (bad luck, but everything can fail), and the second time.. Not really sure what your problem is there. Sounds like you need to pay more attention when driving and not get into situations where you have to slam on the brakes so hard that any road surface irregularity will cause you to crash into the next car

Either that or the ABS is broken again on the new car. No way should you have to "learn where the trouble spots are on the roads". Something is not right, either the ABS or your driving.

Re:Antilock Braking Systems... (1)

phillymjs (234426) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232669)

I'm not slamming on the brakes, this happens even when gradually applying the brakes to slow from a reasonable highway speed down to off-ramp speed. Particularly when I hit the rim of a depression created by a manhole cover that's an inch or so lower than the road surface at the highway exit by my office.

If it happened when I was driving way too fast or not paying attention, I would have been in a collision by now.


Such a good thing? (4, Insightful)

jmichaelg (148257) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232345)

In college I drove an Austin-Healey 3000 that somehow felt faster at 45 mph than my Mazda RX-8 (or even my Toyota Highlander Hybrid) feels at 75 mph. That was a good thing.'"

Unless you arrive at your destination exhausted because the car was nagging at you the whole way. Back in my college days, I drove from Northern Calif to Southern in a noisy, rattletrap. I pulled into Pasadena around 5 hours after starting and was bone tired from the drive. So tired in fact, I didn't notice a kid crossing in front of a stopped car in the next lane. The stopped car driver realized I wasn't slowing down, saw that the kid was in jeopardy and so he leaned on his horn. Had that driver not blasted his horn, I could well have hit the kid. As it was, I'm sure the kid never realized how close he came to being hit because he stopped and glared at the horn blower.

Quieter, smoother cars just don't fatigue you as much as cars used to. I think that's a good thing. Being in an accident because you're tired, not so much.

Is there a name for these types of phenomena? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232361)

We improve cars and people drive more recklessly; we cure diseases and find new diseases or new strains of disease; we improve product and workplace safety tremendously over the past 100 years and get in a panic over peanuts, plastic, and lead paint; we've become a ridiculously wealthy nation and nearly cause a national economic collapse because what we had wasn't good enough.

Is there a good term for these sorts of situations? It's as though we (or in the case of disease, nature) have some sort of compensation mechanism to counter positive things in our lives.

The Austin-Healey feels faster... (1)

antagonizt (613384) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232375)

because you're lower to the ground

Too bad statistics disagree with their "point"... (4, Insightful)

demonbug (309515) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232439)

According to all of the statistics I have seen, injury and fatality rates continue to steadily decrease (latest US statistics [] ). I understand the point the article is trying to make - and in specific cases it is probably true - but on the whole, making vehicles and roads safer does in fact translate into an increase in overall safety in spite of the idiotic driving habits of the general public.

I tend to think that having a more extensive driver training program where drivers are exposed to poor conditions and limits of vehicle handling are a much better idea than purposely making roads and vehicles worse. Maybe even have rigorous enough testing that the incompetent are actually weeded out and not allowed to possess driver's licenses.


Re:Too bad statistics disagree with their "point". (1)

Dan667 (564390) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232667)

Almost anyone can get a drivers license. I saw a show once where an 85 year old man that clearly was not all there mentally was still passed on a dmv driving test (he could barely walk and became disoriented after he left the car, no joke). I am all for as much freedom as possible for the elderly, but it was quite scary. Higher standards would yield better driving.

Another perspective. (1) (1195047) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232531)

Auto safety tech may encourage higher insurance premiums due to increased dangerous driving. Joy.

Spiked interiors! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27232539)

I can promise you that if the interior of cars looked like iron maidens with rows of razor sharp spikes, people would be far more likely to drive safely.

It would help with traffic congestion as well (fewer living drivers).

Seriously, we've come to the point in our evolution where it is no longer necessary to protect everyone. We need to start implementing ways to thin the herd, as it were.


old news (1)

mestar (121800) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232551)

This is old news. This was the point of the book "Risk".

impatience (1)

fongaboo (813253) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232557)

i know that better handling and smoother ride definitely makes me a more 'impatient' driver. i've caught myself riding the ass of someone driving an '89 sundance and cursing them for going so slow until I remember how tenuous it felt to go more than 62mph back when that was my car...

Re:impatience (1)

changa (197280) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232639)

Yes, drives me nuts when people tailgate while you are doing 80.

They don't seem to realize just how hard it is to stop a car at those speeds.

I try to keep a good distance away from the car in front of me as I have a good deal of respect for the physics of the situation.

You simply need to get used to the new car feel (1)

LordWoody (187919) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232633)

Has it occurred to anyone that you are used to the vibration as a form of feedback. Additionally you associate certain vibrational sensations with certain speeds and conditions.

Chances are that your older perception of speed and control may not co-inside with a younger person's perception who has not driven older vehicles?

Even more, take a simple test, drive at 65MPH for a long distance, then drive at 85MPH for a long distance, then go back to 65. It will not feel as fast as 65 did the first time. Why? because your perception of 'regular' speed has adjusted for handling 85MPH.

Perception is simply natural comparison allowing you to compare relative events and experiences. Driving around a tight corner at high speed when you first learned to drive felt risky because your perception has been against not driving fast around corners. Once you force yourself to accept that that speed at that radius is safe, then you get more comfortable and your baseline perception adjusts.

Therefore I argue, you just need to learn how to feel your new vehicle. And face it, newer vehicles do corner better (sway bars, suspension, tires, etc...) and hold the road much better so the fact that your perception allows you to feel as safe at faster speeds is an accurate adjustment.

The poster and the article title also leap to a conclusion not supported by the article itself. The main thesis of the article, the Peltzman effect (as defined in the article) indicates a relatively even trade, not a tilt towards less safety. You are simply trading one set of issues for a different set. Bad road grip for inattentive driving for example. Both can be equally unsafe.

Simple solution (1)

Krater76 (810350) | more than 5 years ago | (#27232683)

I saw a show years ago about this same situation. People start to think that seatbelts and airbags will save them and take more risks. The auto-safety expert joked that they should put a big spike coming out of the stearing column and then people might actually drive a little more within their limits.

As for older cars feeling safer, they definitely weren't. Each generation is progressively better no matter how fast their top speed is. I have driven a Model T and a Model A (both owned by my father). They were restored as close to factory specs as one could get, they weren't hot rods.

The Model T was very unsafe just due to the fact that if you got hit or hit someone else you were almost guaranteed to be thrown from the vehicle. The Model A is a huge step forward and had many, many safety improvements over the T. Much better brakes and steering, bumpers, improved headlights, and a much better suspension. With just an increase in luxury and power you would be safer, but the threshold is just pushed a little farther and you still die but at a faster speed. The same steering column to crush your chest, hard surfaces to crush your skull, and a very low chance that the doors will stay closed and not eject you or crush you within on a rollover. Still a net positive but not much.

On a side note, realizing this my father put in seatbelts in the A. That's not what Ford had designed, but he'd rather his family live through an accident.
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