Unsafe car features

I agree TSM that new cars tend to have too many distractions built into the console for the driver to fiddle with. GPS, maps, flat screen displays, blue tooth, etc. You are absolutely right about that concern. But a youthful driver adjusting their radio, not concentrating on the road, and causing an accident could happen with any car. There was an accident in San Jose quite a few years ago where a driver was reaching for a cassette tape that had fallen on the floor, lost control of the car, and injured a group of bicyclists out for some exercise.

Point well made, George. But jeeze, do the designers have to add to the problem?

Sorry to hear about the accident, good to hear that you are OK, It is so frustrating to see distracted drivers espically the ones on their cell phones making sudden lane changes without regard to the cars around them. The first thing the driver should do is drive the car, adjust the radio etc at a stop light not when the car is moving.

The biggest unsafe feature in any car is the driver. The radio, GPS, A/C controls are only excuses for being distracted. The bottom line is all safety features aside if the human driving the car chooses to not pay attention there is nothing the radio can do about it. The worst thing is the designers are coming up with so many “safety features” ( auto-braking, Lane departure warnings etc.) that are lulling people into a false sense of security, that they feel they do not need to pay as much attention to driving, in the years to come I think we will see a marked decline of the even minimal driving skills exhibited today. In aviation you are taught in all circumstances first and foremost " fly the damn plane". So on that note first and foremost “drive the damn car” anything else can wait.

Designers respond to challenges from their managers, and I’m think about managers above the design level. Steering wheel controls begin to get at the issue, but the auto companies can’t fit all controls on the steering wheel. I suppose voice controls could address the problem, but I’m not sure voice recognition is good enough to make it work. I used to use a Palm Pilot, and the script input with the stylus was eventually easy. I wonder if this could work? I know that Mercedes Benz has some input on a center consol touch pad, but I’m not sure how much can be done that way.

Sorry to hear about the accident MB…Glad you’re alright.

The HVAC controls on my 4runner are a real nightmare to operate. It’s almost impossible to operate the controls without looking at them.

However the HVAC controls on my new 14 Highlander…are extremely easy to operate. Maybe Toyota learned it’s lesson.

The easiest controls by far were on any GM vehicle I owned from the mid 70’s to my 84 S-15.

Glad you’re OK, TSM.

I agree that a lot of cabin ergonomics are designed more to dazzle than to be easy to use. It’s actually a little better these days than some of the insane designs coming out of GM in the 80’s. Remember the Trofeo? That thing looked like a space shuttle inside, which little-boy-me would have loved beyond words, but which adult-me finds to be a terrible case of button overload.

And remember this 90’s Grand Prix steering wheel?

F1 drivers would be scratching their head at that thing.

But any ergonomic problem can be overcome. What got you rear-ended wasn’t that the radio controls were hard to see, but that the driver thought fiddling with the radio was more important than checking the windshield to see if he was about to ram something. If the radio controls suck that much, you should pull over and fool with them. And if more people took that approach, the radio controls would stop sucking, because no one would buy a car that you had to stop every time a bad song came on the radio.

I would really like to see a cultural attitude shift to where driving was not seen as unwanted “downtime” in which you scramble to get from A to B as fast as possible, and search for anything to do to distract yourself from the tedium of the journey. Driving should be seen as a skill, and one that can be improved with practice and effort.

I don’t think the problem is the placement of controls so much, but the sheer number of controls on a modern car. One thing about keeping with the same brand of car though is that you can usually expect the controls to be pretty similar, but not always. Eg. the wiper controls on Chrysler products have been on the turn signal stalk since the 1980s.

Usually after a few months of owning a car I can just reach for a control without looking and find it, and get it to do what I want, including the HVAC. But all bets are off if you have a touch screen you have to actually look at to make it work, which is why I like tactile controls for the major functions in a car.

Yeah number of controls and the small print. As far as voice controls go, I shut Betty off in my car. I just got tired of her always saying “did you say . . .”

No one has mentioned it yet, so I will. The gas mileage gauge. New cars now have a digital readout of average mileage since the last time the trip odometer was set and a corresponding needle to indicate if you are currently doing better than the average or worse. Nothing like trying to improve your mileage on the way to your next accident is there.

The worse part is that if look at the needle while driving, my mileage seems to go down. But if I am doing some spirited driving, or I’m in heavy traffic and I can’t take the time to look at the gauge, the mileage seems to go up, go figure.

I haven’t seen that one with the needle anyway but have always had the immediate and average mpg until reset. I remember maybe 20+ years ago my FIL had a Pontiac with an economy meter in it. Basically a vacuum gauge with red and green telling you if you were being economical or not.

Good addition Keith.
It’s too bad cars don’t come with a “not paying attention” warning. Perhaps a hand could come out of the setback and smack the driver up the side of the head, accompanied by a loud voice that yells “pay attention dummy”.


I remember those economy meters. I also remember that the ones that actually had mpg markings on them were labeled very optimistically

Oh man, lets not give anyone any more ideas to make a car safer. Don’t some of those DWI devices require you to blow into the tube at certain intervals in order for the car to remain on? I think they figure you might be sober getting in the car but then have the six pack along for the ride. So I suppose it would just be a short hop and a few hundred dollars to require someone to blow into the tube every five minutes to make sure you’re awake and paying attention. Or even maybe have to solve a word game on the touch screen every couple of minutes to keep you alert.

I tried without success to look up the chemistry involved to figure out of blowing into the tube with, say, a turkey baster or fireplace bellows would fake out the breath tester. Anybody know the answer?

I spent nearly 15 years designing non-dispersive IR absorption spectroscopy instruments for respiratory breath detection and industrial applications. Even a fairly simple device is able to discern four elements/factors; CO2 concentration, alcohol concentration, flow rate/pressure and sample temperature. You’d need a fairly sophisticated “dummy” to fool it into thinking a human was providing the sample…far outside the abilities of the typical drunk driver :wink:

Thanks TT. Can I assume that (one of) the last (two) is/are used to validate that the source of the gas is human?

CO2 production and sample temperature range are indications of biological origin…

Yes, but that wasn’t the question. The question was do the analyzers check for that and do these need to be within a given set o f parameters for the breath analyzer to allow the driver to continue. Or do these analyzers only check for alcohol.

To the best of my recollection (from the time that I worked for a couple of my state’s Deputy AGs), these devices detect the temperature of the air that is breathed into them, as well as the CO2 level, and the alcohol level.