Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Technology for safer cars

I’ve always thought that if the car companies and regulatory bodies out there wanted to make a safer car it wouldn’t be too difficult.

I’ve always thought that if the car companies and regulatory bodies out there wanted to make a safer car it wouldn’t be too difficult.

The first thing they could do is take out the seats, more comfortable than any couch I’ve ever owned, and put in a flat bench bent at the same angle as those uncomfortable school desks designed to combat scoliosis. They would take out the deluxe stereo with 16 speakers and put in a simple radio with two crappy speakers that squelch, buzz and give off the occasional burst of static. Instead of heat, drivers could merely choose between different levels of bracing cold.

Manufacturers would install wiper nozzles on the inside as well as out to spray water in the driver’s face occasionally, an optical scanner that buzzes every time you take your eyes off the road, and an antenna would cancel out any cell phone signals.

Every car would have a maximum speed of 100 km/h, and take a full minute to get up to that velocity. There would be no blind spots, and electrodes built into your steering wheel would give you an electrical shock if you tried to merge without doing a shoulder check or were tailgating the car in front of you. The ignition, it goes without saying, would be hooked up to a breathalyzer, and every car would have a black box that lets investigators show just who was at fault for every accident.

It would take all the fun out of driving, but driving isn’t really supposed to be fun. Driving is a conveyance, a convenient and quick way to get from A to B with room to spare for friends, family and groceries. This idea pushed by the manufacturers that cars are entertainment, liberation, fashion statement, and personal expression (you get to drive the way you want), is pure insanity. Something like eight and a half people are killed and 600 injured every single day on Canadian roads. Most of those accidents happen for stupid reasons — speeding, drinking and driving, not checking over your shoulder, and not paying attention because the driver is eating/drinking/talking on a cell phone/playing with the radio.

The problem with cars has always been the people driving them. Putting a flighty teenager with a cell phone and the attention span of a puppy at the wheel of a 7,000 pound SUV is nothing short of reckless endangerment. Ditto giving licenses to advanced senior citizens with cataracts and a tendency to black out if they forget to take their heart medication.

I’m not picking on anybody, I’ve been that flighty teenager and I hope one day to be that senior citizen, but I just think it’s crazy we’ll give anything as potentially dangerous as a driver’s license to anybody who can tell the difference between a yield sign and a stop sign on the written test, and can parallel park with the instructor in the car on a day when everyone is on their best behaviour.

The solution then, some car companies believe, is to take people out of the equation.

Science Daily — — ran a recent article on a project by a European group called PReVENT that is in the process of designing crash proof cars. They’re using technologies like satellite navigation and parking sensors to effectively reduce your chance of getting into an accident. Computers can evaluate your speed, the speed of vehicles around you, the space between vehicles, and even take over your braking with reflexes many times faster than yours.

Sensors can even check blind spots on cars and trucks, letting the driver know if there is anything there to avoid.

There’s no speed limiter or steering control, so there’s still a chance of accidents, but even a small drop in speed can make a huge difference in how much damage is caused to the vehicles and the drivers.

Another group of researchers in California is looking at the possibility of outfitting vehicles with Wi-fi wireless transmitters and receivers so your car can talk to other cars in the immediate area. Computers in vehicles analyze the data, interpret the risks and either prompt the driver to react or take over the vehicle.

Transmitters can also be placed at intersections, letting drivers know whether they need to slow down or stop, coordinating with emergency vehicles, and may even be embedded in the highway someday in a way that would allow the computer to drive for you, accelerating, braking and steering in perfect sync with all the other cars on the road. Traffic would be streamlined by computers, and accidents would be a thing of the past.

This isn’t science fiction, and the PReVENT group believes it will have systems ready for market in the next five to 10 years.

The group studying the Wi-fi model is also in development, although it could be a while before we get to the point where we can read or nap on the highway while our cars get us to the right exit ramp.

Technology may one day take away all the fun in driving, but at least it will get you from A to B safely.


Website of the Week — I followed a random link promising the best strategy game ever, and damned if it didn’t deliver. I started getting stuck on Stage 6, sweated through to Stage 11 — and there are 36 stages to get through.

They also track the number of moves it takes you to solve all the puzzles, forcing you to really sit and think if you want to lower your overall score.

Don’t forget to write down the codes for each level. I forgot to, and I’m not looking forward to repeating three levels.