The absolute variety of driving aids has grown to a staggering number, and there’s no indication that it’s going to slow down soon. The rearview camera is quickly becoming a standard feature across the industry, and while some companies simply give you a view of what’s immediately behind you, others provide guidance lines to show you what’s in your way or else use the view from extra cameras placed around the vehicle to extrapolate an outside perspective.
Other software programs are more useful on the highway. Adaptive cruise control not only lets you take your foot off the gas pedal, it automatically keeps pace with traffic and can even read speed limit signs (at least on some vehicles). Some cars can keep track of lane markings and will flash lights, bleep sounds, and vibrate the steering wheel to warn you when you’re leaving the road, and more advanced models can even adjust the steering and brake to some degree in order to stay within the lines.
Of course, when you go to look up all the hottest new driver assistance programs and packages, something you’ll see next to every last one is a small-text disclaimer which points out a fact that you should already know: the most important safety feature in any car is the driver. As the package title stresses, while these sensors and control programs are meant to make it harder for the driver to make mistakes, they do not assume responsibility for decisions and visual checks which the driver should make regardless.
The trouble with these systems is that visual identification software is still relatively new, and it doesn’t always work as well as we might want it to. What if you’re on a road whose markings have worn away without being repainted? What if you’re on a small highway with no shoulder and no line along the outer edge? What if the software simply has a bug and fails to function at a critical moment?
At the same time, the control programs which take over steering and braking are limited by design. While the automated systems can react faster than a human, the driver is still meant to be the person who is ultimately in control of the vehicle, not the software designer who developed the program.
Car companies do this not only so that you can feel like you’re still the person making the decisions – and towards that end a lot of these programs can also be shut off – but it’s also done this way for liability purposes. If the car takes control and yet ultimately crashes, then the driver (or the driver’s survivors) may be able to claim that the manufacturer is at fault for the collision. Automakers deal with enough lawsuits as it is thanks to faulty parts and slow recalls, so it’s no wonder that self-driving cars probably won’t hit the open market for a long while to come.
Although the electronic systems on cars are making great strides as the years go by, driver attention continues to be the single most important factor in whether or not a car crashes. Relying on your onboard technology to make your life easier is all well and good, but you should always remember that the final responsibility for safety rests with you.