Since the invention of the car in the late 1800’s, things have changed a lot. Back then it wasn’t too dangerous because there were only a few cars on the road. But as they became more popular in the 50’s, we started to realize the dangers. In the years since, road safety has been changing all of the time in an attempt to make things safer. The problem is, as new technology is developed, new challenges arise. If we want to keep the roads safe, we need to adapt to that before it’s too late. When you look at the statistics, things can get a bit confusing. For example, it wasn’t until 1932 that there was a decrease in fatalities from road traffic, every year before then saw an increase. Even in the years following that, there was never a sustained period of decreasing traffic fatalities until the late 1990’s. Since then, the number of deaths has been going down for the most part but in some years, fatalities have still been going up. Those figures would suggest that the roads are actually not getting that much safer but that’s not the full story. So, what exactly is going on?
More Cars On The Road
The main reason that all of those fatality figures aren’t so clear cut is that there are more cars on the road every year, which obviously increases the chance of accidents. The reason that fatalities were rising for so long is that we didn’t update laws and regulations to cope with the sudden influx of drivers on the road. In the last twenty years, we’ve caught up with it and started to see a drop in the number of fatalities.
Changes in the law are one of the biggest contributors to road safety and are responsible for a drop in the number of deaths. Before 1910, there were no laws whatsoever about drink driving. That seems crazy to us now because we all know how irresponsible and dangerous it can be, but back then, people didn’t really think about it. When the laws were first introduced, there were no guidelines about how much alcohol you could drink before you were unsafe to drive, it simply said that it was illegal to drive when intoxicated. The problem with this is that everybody has a different tolerance and if you’ve had a few drinks, you might not appear outwardly drunk but your ability to drive safely will still be massively diminished.
By the mid 1930’s, a primitive form of the breathalyzer was introduced so the police had some sort of yardstick to measure people’s drunkenness against but it wasn’t an exact science and there was still no legal limit. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that people really started to realize the dangers of drink driving and the punishments for offenders were made more severe and the legal limit was made higher. These days, you are over the limit after just over one drink which is far safer than it has ever been before.
As well as drink driving legislation, the penalties for people that cause accidents are stricter so people are less likely to drive irresponsibly. Sites like www.magnesslaw.com/louisiana-car-accident-lawsuit-settlements-and-compensation can help you to work out whether you have a claim after you’ve been in an accident. The threat of being penalized ensures that people think and act more carefully when they’re on the road. Before there were any consequences, people were more inclined to break the law.
Tighter controls on speed limits are another big factor. The penalties are a lot larger now than they used to be and fear of a huge fine will deter most people from speeding. The advent of speed cameras also makes it easier to police speeding so we’ve seen a massive drop in people breaking the limit over the last few decades.
While all of the improvements we’ve made in the law help to reduce the number of traffic accidents that people have, you’ll never be able to stop it from happening completely. The best way to stop fatalities is obviously preventing the crash happening in the first place, but when that isn’t possible, you need to make sure that the car is prepared to deal with the impact in such a way that it minimizes the damage that is done to the driver and the passengers.
Some of the biggest improvements in car safety have come from the simplest of developments. Improvements in the strength of steel have seen a huge increase in the amount of force that the car can absorb. If the car takes the brunt of the accident then the passengers inside will be much safer.
Crumple zones are also another very important technology. In the past, cars were heavy and solid so if you hit a wall you would bounce off and all of the force of deceleration would be taken by your body. If the force is absorbed by the car then it is far safer for the driver. Cars these days are built from a combination of different materials, specifically designed to crumple at the front and absorb the impact before it hits the driver. They tend to use softer materials on the front and the outside, while encasing the driver in harder steel. This allows car manufacturers to tailor the way that cars crash, making it as safe as possible.
By using crash test dummies, car manufacturers are constantly looking into ways to make crashes even less damaging and reducing the risk of fatalities.
Cars That Can Think
Human error is something that can’t always be avoided. While we can reduce the risks that come from the mistakes we make, it is always bound to happen sometimes. The risk of death is massively reduced when you put safety nets in place that can rectify the mistakes that we make. Auto-braking is one of the best new technologies on the market and it’s being fitted in most new cars. Sensors in the front of the car can determine if an object is getting too close and brake for you. The reactions of the computer are much faster than a human could ever be so it is far safer.
Steering correction is another technology that can help make driving safer, especially on the highway. When people are driving long distances, they may start to lose concentration and drifty slightly. If they drift too far out of their lane then they risk crashing. Steering correction systems map the roads and make small adjustments to keep the car in the right lane.
What Does The Future Hold?
These electronic driving technologies are becoming more and more prominent, most recently with the introduction of driverless cars. All of the changes we’ve made over the last few hundred years might all be obsolete once the driver no longer has control over the car. Once all cars are fitted with self-driving technology, it is likely that they will all be linked over wifi so the chances of accidents will be basically zero, right? It would be great if that were the case but driverless cars bring a whole new list of dangers with them.
Decision making is a big worry because a computer cannot weigh up decisions in the same way that a person could. Imagine that a car is driving down a road. A lorry coming down the other side of the road veers out of control and blocks both side of the road. Now imagine that there was a pedestrian on the pavement. It would be up to the driver to decide whether to veer right and crash into the lorry, possibly killing themselves, or veer left and risk killing the pedestrian. We don’t really know how a computer would react to this, who’s life would it put first? This lack of ability to make decisions could seriously endanger lives and make driverless cars very unpredictable.
There are other ways that a computer might not be as good as a human when it comes to driving. Adapting to changing conditions could be an issue. Things like rapid weather changes or changes in road surface could cause problems. Although we should be able to overcome these hurdles when the technology improves, this could still cause problems in the short term.
Reliability is also going to a potential hazard. How many times has your laptop or phone crashed while you were using it? There is no reason why the computer systems that are running your car couldn’t do the same thing. If it fails and the driver is not ready to react, a crash is likely to happen. There have already been crashes in driverless cars because the computers have failed. See http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/security-tech/technology/driverless-crashes/articleshow/56510821.cms for a list of all of the accidents to date. Current rules state that the driver must always have their hands on the wheel and so the crashes were in part caused by their negligence, but it still proves that the technology isn’t foolproof.
The truth is, we can’t be sure what the future of driving safety holds until we have done further tests on new technology, but by no means is driving completely safe yet.