Automotive technology

Automotive technology: the good, the bad and the safe

Advances in technology have helped and hurt driving habits. Advocate Steve Heisler offers the good, the bad and the safe when it comes to automotive technology.

By Steven Heisler

Detroit wasn’t the only city to rely on the auto industry. The day-to-day running of our government business is moved by vehicles – law enforcement, facilities services, public works and even parks and recreation. The days of horse-drawn fire trucks are long gone and we rely on today’s vehicles to aid in the operations of our state and local governments.

Our cars contain so much technology, and are associated with it, that it is difficult to know today where the car ends and the computer begins. Same our most basic cars have at least 30 microprocessors (sometimes called computer-on-chip), and many have since 50 to 100 microprocessorsmanaging and controlling everything from steering and acceleration to tire pressure sensors and systems that monitor drivers’ personal comfort.

Is all this technology a good thing for public sector fleets? Which advances are good (i.e. improve security), which are bad (i.e. reduce security)? Here is an overview of some of the most common gadgets and systems.

What technologies reduce security?

Almost everyone agrees that the following technological advancements reduce securitymainly because they promote distracted driving, causing drivers to take their eyes off the road, not think about driving or hold the wheel:

  • Cell Phones/Smart Phones. These addictive little computers are perhaps the worst offenders when it comes to distracted driving, robbing our attention, our hands (via text messages) and our eyes (via reading or checking directions). As much as 1.6 million accidents each year involve in some way the use of the mobile phone. Is it any wonder at this point that all states do you have some kind of law against texting or using the phone while driving?
  • Radios, mobile data terminals (MTD), and on-board computers are all common in a variety of fleet vehicles. Each can also distract and impair the driver’s attention, which has led to a recent increase in driving accidents distracted by police and other government agencies.

What technologies improve security?

Some technologies really do save lives in proven ways. The following advancements are just a sampling of those that have improved security the most:

  • Reversing cameras. Testing by Consumer Reports found that for some of the vehicles with the worst rear visibility when the driver was smaller, a small child could not be seen when within 70 feet of the rear bumper. Backup cameras save lives.
  • Lane departure systems. These systems work via sensors that detect lane markings on the road, and are sometimes linked to blind spot detection systems. A lane detection system alerts the driver when they deviate from the lane, as usually happens when someone is sleeping at the wheel. Lane departure systems are valuable advances when it comes to preventing accidents and saving lives.

Local level risk mitigation

Until drones are fully integrated into our world and we move like the Jetson in our flying spacecraft, it behooves us to consider ways to encourage the use of safety-enhancing technologies while avoiding safety-reducing technologies.

  • Public safety and government employees are often not alone in a vehicle. When a passenger is present, the driver should consider delegating tasks (such as navigation and radio communications) to allow the driver to stay focused on the road.
  • Implementing and enforcing policies prohibiting computer use while driving is a necessary consideration for fleet managers. While officers and government officials may rely on their on-board computers in their work, these devices should be turned off while driving (or at certain speeds) for the safety of everyone on the road.

  • State and local governments have had to negotiate ever-tighter budget cuts alongside growing demands. Older vehicles without the aforementioned safety reduction technologies can increase risk to drivers and others on the road. Reducing investments in fleet maintenance and provisioning is not always the wisest decision.

What can we conclude?

Overall, systems built into our cars that take on the tasks of accident avoidance and mitigation, without needing our interaction, are “good technology”. These systems are the ones that save the most lives without distracting us. Complementary technologies, such as our telephones or certain GPS systems, are often “bad technology”. These items are top notch distractors, causing accidents, injuries and deaths. And, as always, it will take some time for the law to catch up with the latest and greatest advancements in technology.

In the meantime, state and local authorities can work to educate staff and develop/update/enforce safe driving policies that take into account the latest technologies.

A former Golden Gloves boxer, Steve Heisler loves his battles in the courtroom these days as a personal injury attorney in Baltimore. He can be reached at http://www.theinjurylawyermd.com/steve-heisler.

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