A happy cowboy in the hills of Tennessee at a horse barn with a dirt drive on a hillside.
False Sense of Security?
The front page article by Marco della Cava in the Wednesday April 18th, 2018 USA Today is titled “Is car technology giving us a false sense of security?” I say no it isn’t. Semi-autonomous driving technology is allowing drivers to be more aware by freeing the driver from mundane tasks and thus it is making driving more safe.
My profession involves a lot of driving throughout the country from FL to VT to TN to LA and even all over WA. Currently I drive over 60,000 miles annually in a Tesla semi-autonomous vehicle plus another 10,000 miles in various car rentals, some with semi-autonomous features including self steering and traffic aware cruise control. The best description that applies to driving with my feet off the pedals and my hand occasionally wiggling the steering wheel is that there is a willing partnership that has evolved between me and these vehicles.
Rather than being distracted by the basic driving environment such as following distance, flow of surrounding traffic and lane drift, my concentration is now more available to the unexpected fallen tree limb, flooded road, blinding sun and human or animal suddenly in my path. Together, the car helps me to become a more aware and responsible driver. In essence, there is a joint effort to avoid a crash.
Non-autonomous driving vehicles require more brain processing power to drive. Added to this brain drain are the constant phone calls and texts. There are other ever present distractions that compete with my attention such as planning my schedule or yesterday’s argument or tonight’s speech - any non-driving thought. None of these can be regulated with traffic laws. All of my thoughts use valuable mental resources and removing some of the mundane driving tasks through autonomous technology frees up my ability to remain aware of more serious traffic concerns. But this transition does not occur overnight.
My first 20,000 miles in the Tesla was arduous as my reflexes from over a million lifetime miles in vehicles that included tractor trailers made me cuss the self driving technology. By 30,000 miles, however, I realized that the car depended on me to make some things right using the “art of driving” while I learned to trust the computer engineers and car designers who have less driving experience manufacture an artificial driving experience based on physics. They use the computer to make decisions without the subtle nuances of easing into and out of situations or even understanding them. A shadow across the road or a contrasting cross walk now becomes an obstacle to occasionally apply emergency braking.
Through computer updates in the last 6 months, many of the imperfections I saw in the beginning have been resolved. Now that I am ready for the past computer’s imperfections, these are taken in stride when they happen and are celebrated when they are resolved. My brain is free to relax and enjoy the experience even in bumper to bumper traffic. I have never felt safer driving any vehicle as I have in my Tesla using the semi-autonomous driving technology.
My routes throughout the country range from interstates, major city roads, parkways, county roads, local roads and one lane dirt roads with pot holes and no guard rails protecting me from dangerous areas. I use all the automated technology as often as the car will allow.
As my wife puts it, I am not a perfect “10” in every category but she won’t trade me in for any other man. She likes the “overall” me and this is exactly how I feel about the semi-autonomous technology of all the vehicles I have driven especially the Tesla X. Now that I’m using it daily, I’m not ever going to drive without it. Rather I am looking forward to the improvements and the day when all cars take away the task of driving for everyone. Until then, I’m keeping my hand on the steering wheel and my eyes open.
Problems still to be addresses:
- Selecting a percentage over speed limit rather than a finite number over speed limit before a warning - and to make that warning a change of color rather than an imperceptible enlargement of the speed limit sign on the dash.
- Unlimited phone contacts.
- The ability to correct the speed recognized by the car with the actual speed of the road (error in mapping).
- The incorrect arrival times on navigation compared to actual arrival times
- Ability to select alternate routes
- The ability to add multiple destinations (up to 10 stops) throughout the day and then calculate charging stops to complete the day
- The ability to override the auto-steer restriction of 5 MPH over incorrectly posted speed limit.