WINDSOR, Ontario - Solutions to the 21st century's auto safety challenges likely will revolve - for better and for worse - on the limits and potential of electronics.
'We are far from the limits of possibility in active safety,' said Joseph Haberl, manager of vehicle safety and worldwide certification for BMW AG.
Likewise, Christian Steyer, chief of Renault SA's safety department, said technology may be limited only by the information that is fed into safety devices.
While engineers are preparing airbags that can adapt to a driver's or passenger's characteristics and to different kinds of crashes, they are less sure how to feed the equipment all relevant details it may need, he said.
Age, for example, is a factor in the forces an occupant can tolerate in a crash. But it is not something that sensors can pick up, he noted.
The remarks came during last week's 16th Enhanced Safety of Vehicles international technical conference here.
The four-day gathering drew about 600 people from government, industry, research and medicine.
While experts such as Haberl and Steyer touted technology, they and others at the conference said advanced electronics also raise new questions.
Conferees pondered whether crash-recording devices, such as the so-called black boxes on airplanes, would violate a motorist's right to privacy or protection from self-incrimination in criminal cases.
They also considered whether automatic vehicle controls - which would adjust speed, braking and handling according to road conditions and driver behavior - might create new hazards if the systems shut down. Dangerously inattentive drivers would be one example.
Haberl, for one, said he does not foresee fully automated vehicles.
'I believe (the systems) should not do more than assist the driver,' he said. And in any case, 'these technologies must remain affordable.'