An interesting benefit of all the computers and sensors in our automobiles is that safety can be added without adding a lot of cost. Over the next several years, we are going to see amazing safety features that grow out of all the computer power already on board our new cars and trucks.
As antilock brakes and stability control become more common, engineers can add safety features that couldn't support the costs by themselves. Those features piggyback on the existing computer power.
This is going to allow a new realm of safety that had been only a far-off dream for engineers. Within a decade, what was once just an idea will become reality.
And yet, I continue to worry about the driver. More and more, automobile companies are trying to take control away from the driver and put it into some computer.
Of course, automobile companies should make their cars and trucks as safe as possible. I encourage them to add life-saving features as rapidly as possible. But are we trying to take responsibility from the driver and instead credit or blame the vehicle?
Too many fatal crashes are caused by drunken driving. We are still not willing to make the penalties tough enough to eliminate drunken driving. In parts of Europe, for example, if you are found to be intoxicated behind the wheel, you spend a year in jail. The penalty for drunken driving is sufficiently severe that few people are foolish enough to drink and drive.
All the best safety features haven't stopped the drunk from getting behind the wheel, although I am told that it might be possible to equip a vehicle with devices that prevent a car from being operated by an impaired driver. Once again, we are trying to save drivers from themselves.
Maybe we need some tough national standards and penalties for driving while intoxicated. They might make a dent in highway deaths.
While the car is getting much safer, we still aren't attacking the biggest causes of accidents. It's time for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to create national programs for effective law enforcement.