Are Manufacturers Ready for Driver Responsibility?

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A few months ago Fiat Chrysler recalled 4.8 million vehicles after it was found that cruise control refused to turn off. This would potentially leave drivers careening down the roadway unable to stop. While the automaker suggested shifting the car into neutral and braking, the car would have to be at a full stop and in park before cruise control would cancel engagement. Even this was a best-case scenario. Few drivers are trained in emergency situations and protocols; few know how to manage the stress involved with a fast moving car that refuses to stop. While their recommendation is appreciated, the likelihood of the right person hearing their recommendation and properly implementing the steps at high speeds is unlikely. 

The cruise control recall is a glimpse into what we may see in the future with newer technologies. In a hyper-competitive industry where the latest and greatest technology could either assure a manufacturers success or close their doors altogether, integrating tech prematurely is a real concern. 

We soon expect cars to be fully autonomous and proactively safe. This sounds great, but all tech malfunctions. There isn't a manufacturer out there that can test everything with 100% assurance. This leaves the general public as the automotive industry's beta testers. We know that auto manufacturers are confident enough in their advances that they're willing to put lives at risk, then hide behind corporate legalities and blame sharing when something goes wrong. When a self-driving Uber crashed earlier this year, Uber stated, “Emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior”. The NTSB found “The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.” This is an unfortunate example of miscommunication between the manufacturer, the technology, and the driver that ended in a fatality. Luckily for Fiat Chrysler, no crashes have been reported with regard to their cruise control issue. Still, how many more families are going to be forced to replace their loved ones with money payouts before we’ve had enough? 

There will be a period of time, as tech is advanced and further integrated, that crash statistics and fatalities rise. This will leave the automotive industry scrambling for positive marketing messages reassuring safety and security in their technology. Along with this, you’ll start to see a lot more manufacturers promoting education opportunities billed as “experiences”.  Technology is inevitable, but educating the population on how to properly implement the technology, or what to do if it malfunctions, is vital. Few drivers today know what traction control, stability control, or anti-lock brakes do, and these technologies have been in cars for years. Add to this list the technologies incorporated in just the past few years and drivers are disconnected from there cars, now more than ever. Many hold a false security in phrases like automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning, rear-cross traffic warning, and lane-keeping assist to name a few. These features will malfunction at some point, but whether they increase or decrease crash statistics is yet to be seen. 

The Chrysler cruise control recall should be a wake-up call for the automotive industry. Years ago, driving and driver's education was the responsibility of the driver. Not crashing was the responsibility of the driver. These days, they are quickly becoming the responsibility of the auto manufacturer, but the manufacturers seem ready for the responsibility quite yet.

 

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