Malcolm Gladwell, author of the tipping Point and other best sellers, gets it. He concludes that an obsession with defects in vehicles undermines efforts to address far more significant causes of highway fatalities. In “The Engineer’s Lament” he writes that the variables that really matter have to do with the driver and not the car! He gets it!
The elephant in the “safety” room is the driver!
We spend all of the collective energy of NHTSA focused toward problems that do in fact exist but are so small, in this writer’s opinion that they barely show up in terms of the monstrous proportions of the existing mayhem on our roads. And NHTSA is pretty small in the grand scheme of things.
As an investigator in the unintended acceleration charges against Audi in the mid-1980s I quickly learned that the real culprit was driver error. Combine that the human’s natural inclination to displace fault elsewhere and you have a safety defect owned by the vehicle manufacturer. Same thing for Toyota’s unintended acceleration charges from recent past…nothing was found, even by the NASA rocket scientists!
Sure there are things that come into play from the vehicle designers, like pedal placement, floor mats, etc…but let’s be clear…learning where the pedals are is a responsibility of the driver…and floor mats and their condition and location is the same.
Driver responsibility. The public and NHTSA’s approach to safety is preoccupied with what “might” go wrong mechanically or electronically! But the chief factor always is “how the driver drives”.
We have tremendous capabilities in terms of managing all of the data generated by sensors in vehicles. We have the ability to analyze that data and make predictions based on the data. All of this takes us further down the path of product improvement!
But the elephant still exists. The driver and how they drive…I believe we need a national discussion about safer driving…about personal responsibility in driving.
With all of the sensor data emanating from vehicles today…wouldn’t it be an outstanding idea to include sensors that monitor the driver and their behavior? And report on it? Today with our ability to sense, collect, store, manage, analyze and predict…let’s consider shifting some of our focus from things to people, from measurements to behaviors and actions.
Of course we get into the data ownership and self-incrimination matters…but this seems to pale in the bigger picture.
We are uniquely positioned to be able to deal with the elephant’s behavior and begin that discussion on safer driving with those that actually do the driving.