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Could Driver Aids be in Danger of Helping us Too Much?

by Ian Riches | Sep 01, 2011

As someone who spends a reasonable amount of time aboard aircraft, I have a certain interest in air safety. I recently came across an article on MSNBC titled "Are airline pilots forgetting how to fly?" This essentially argues that some recent fatal crashes have been caused by pilots being unfamiliar with how to operate the airplane when the automatic systems fail.

The automotive industry is clearly well behind aerospace in the levels of automation offered.  The article states that it is commonplace for the crew to only manually fly the aircraft for 90 seconds at each of take-off and landing.  However, with the increasing level of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and other support, do we risk de-skilling drivers?

What will the driver who has relied on their automatic parking system do when it fails?  What will the driver used to autonomous cruise control do when driving a rental car without it?  I know from my own experience the momentary confusion that can often arise when switching to and from vehicles with manual and automatic transmission.

The industry is progressing upon generally sensible lines.  For example, the Volvo City Safety system, which can apply emergency braking effort automatically, offers no audio/visual warning to the driver.  This is deliberate, the thinking being that if it did, drivers may begin to rely on the system to keep an eye out for them.  The system intervention is deliberately late and harsh, so that it is truly an emergency aid only.

However, we regularly see examples of people taking dangerous and unsuitable roads because their sat-nav told them to.  Some seem to have already delegated navigation responsibilities to a machine, and will obey it blindly.

Safety and support system designers will need to keep a close eye on ensuring that they do not unintentionally de-skill drivers and leave them in situations that they no longer have the talents to deal with.

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