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The more features it has... the safer?

In-car safety features... paving the road to complacency?

As mentioned in our last post, we spent a bit of time at the Australasian Fleet Managers Association (AFMA) Conference and Exhibition last month and listened to some fascinating discussions.

One of these discussions has captivated us here at the Fleetcoach offices, and we'd love to know what you think. We've been talking about safety features in cars - you know, all those bells and whistles that the car you drove as a teenager could only dream of. From the more common end we have things like ABS brakes and traction control, and on the more extreme we have full automatic, self-driving cars.

We've been comparing some of these safety features to food and nutrition labels - thinks like the 'stars' or heart tick - you might be reassured when you buy the item bearing that sticker, but is it really any use if you don't know what it means? Perhaps a 'heart tick' refers to the item being high in good fats (great), but also perhaps high in calories. So, if you're counting calories, you can't rely simply on the 'tick'. Similarly in a car with a feature that sounds reassuring. ABS brakes is a pretty good example actually. Do you know what that acronym is short for? And if so, what should you change about your driving, to get the most out of your brakes?

One talk at the AFMA conference asserted that in-car features can actually mean more confidence on behalf of the driver (which we know isn't a great thing!) and a belief that the car has everything covered so the driver can disengage more from the task of driving.

Consider this interesting gaffe where South Australia's Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan was demonstrating 'autonomous emergency brakes' (AEB). He was travelling at 40kmph with an international audience and unfortunately ploughed straight into the demonstration-purpose blow up kangaroo. There are a few theories as to why the demo failed, including that the Mullighan feathered the brake which disengaged the AEB, or even that the level of AEB on the car wasn’t suitable for people/animals etc so wasn’t designed to stop for the kangaroo. Either way, the surprise on Mullighan's face says it all - he expected the car to stop, and that's a big part of the problem.

In Australia roughly 1.1 million new cars are sold every year, approximately 50% purchased by fleets. Fleets are buying 5 star ANCAP rated vehicles which is wonderful, but when a fleet driver (or any driver for that matter) gets a new car, who takes them through its features? What instructions are given regarding the safety features? It's likely that if there is an introduction to the car its focus will be on how the entertainment system works or how to sync your phone to the car.

Finally, there was a great discussion at AFMA about warning messages. We humans seem to always find ways to deal with things that bother us - we often turn them off, or simply tune them out. When using the second option it can mean that over time the driver becomes conditioned to ignore the warnings. While we should be paying attention to the warnings and doing something about the behaviour that caused the warning to trigger in the first place, we find ways to disable the alarm or simply tune it out over time so we aren’t even aware it’s going off. What good are in car safety features if we disable or ignore the warnings?

We'd love to know what you think about the above topic. Have you found yourself relying on a safety feature without fully understanding it? Do you tune out safety warnings if at all possible? What do you think the implications of these actions might be on a long-term basis? Let us know what you think.

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