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13 Feb 2018

BY DR CLIVE FRASER

As we anxiously enter the age of driverless vehicles I’m aghast to see how many driverless cars already seem to be on Australian roads.

When I’m travelling I notice every day other motorists staring into their laps at their smart phones and not looking straight ahead at where they are going.

They are usually in cars that to the best of my knowledge aren’t fitted with adaptive cruise control, lane guidance or autopilot collision avoidance systems.

So I can only assume that there is some sort of app on their smart phone which will alert them if necessary to the need to look up if driver input is required.

I’d say that any car being driven by someone distracted by a smart phone is in my opinion technically “driver-less”.

In my practice I see people every week who have been terribly injured by being impacted from someone texting, Facebooking, Tweeting or Instagraming etc.

I’m also very pleased to see how vigorously law enforcement officers breach distracted drivers for doing so.

With so much inattention on our roads it’s great to see how much technology is already out there to augment rather than replace driver awareness.

My first experience of this was about five years ago in the car park of my local Volvo dealership to test the laser-based City Safety feature in a Volvo XC70.

The salesman told me to drive straight into a large cardboard box in the carpark.

Hard as I tried, the XC70 just would not let me hit it as sensors mounted alongside the rear vision mirror detected an object in front of the vehicle and braked accordingly.

The system works to avoid collisions at speeds of up to 50 km/h.

Thereafter I’ve seen radar-based Adaptive Cruise Control appearing in many more affordable models such as Hyundai’s i30 Elite.

The technology relies on the Doppler effect and the fact that radio-waves reflect from solid objects.

The vehicle will then adjust its speed +/- apply the brakes depending on the closing distance of another vehicle.

More recently a colleague proudly showed me his new Mercedes GLC 250d SUV which comes standard with Collision Prevention Assist.

In his first week of ownership the GLC’s collision avoidance technology successfully helped him to avoid hitting a feral pig which suddenly darted across the road in front of him at mid-night.

But the collision avoidance system proved not to be infallible when he collided with a kangaroo at dusk one week later.

I think Mercedes can be forgiven if their technology works most reliably with pedestrians and walking beasts (cows, horses, sheep, goats etc).

Kangaroos and other hopping animals generally aren’t encountered on German autobahns and the software may require some further tweaking.

Whilst all of this technology arguably makes driving safer, none of it should ever replace driver attention.

Safe motoring,
Doctor Clive Fraser


Published: 13 Feb 2018