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17 September 2015

I’ve never known how true it is, but there’s a story about Ralph Nader (American car safety enthusiast) from some decades ago. He insisted that new cars should all have a system where you couldn’t start the car engine until your seat belt was properly fastened. A new line came out with this feature, and the first was purchased by a father for his daughter, starting her first year at university. Some months later she worked late at the university library and headed for her car, now the last one in the library car park. There she was attacked by a would-be rapist as she opened the car door, she managed to fight him off long enough to get into the car, lock the door, and attempt to start the car to flee. The car refused to start of course, since she wasn’t wearing her seat belt. Before she could fasten that the rapist broke the car window, dragged her out, beat and raped her. Her father sued the car company and won a huge settlement. Now that story may or may not be true.
What concerns me is the latest possibility of similar kind. Recently on TV there was a brief item about a new type of computerized braking system they want to fit to cars. It stops your car slamming into the back of the car in front because you weren’t paying attention when that stopped. The point is that once you get within a certain distance of something static – like another car or perhaps a wall, the brakes come on and refuse to allow you to advance by any distance at all so long as the obstruction remains. One very dangerous possibility dawned on me at that point. Picture this. A driver crosses a railway line just as the car in front for whatever reason stops dead. The car behind it is now trapped on the railway line because the braking system refuses to allow it to move closer to the other car, or even to drive past it at very close range. And you know people, there’s a good chance the driver will stay in the car trying desperately to get it to move forwards – right up to the moment the train hits it. And I can think of other scenarios of that sort that could be caused by a computerized braking system of this type. Computers do not reason, they act as programmed. I don’t think a system like this is a good idea, and it could kill people. Wonder if ALL the possibilities have been considered by the makers?
(And I should add for a friend who asked about reversing the car, that often when one stops at a railway crossing, there is a line of vehicles behind you. You’d have to go to the back of that line and persuade the last in line to reverse, then all the others, up to the front of the line. Then too, while the material I saw on this system said only that you couldn’t go forward aginst an obstacle. It may be too that the computer will not allow the car to reverse against something behind. And if so, that could leave the car stranded for reversing as well if the barrier is down behind the vehicle and the computer refuses to allow reversing through that to escape the train.)

1 Comment »

  1. Erm, is one unable to reverse in such cars?

    Comment by Jan — 3 July 2016 @ 09:48

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