Posts Tagged ‘auto use’

The limits of high tech driving

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

I have an Iphone, a netbook, high speed wireless in my house, Ipods and every other gizmo I can get my hands on but….

Researchers are working to make cars safer and to facilitate higher car densities.  The goals are to make driving safer and improve traffic flow.  Given that over 40,000 people die each year in traffic related injuries, this is a good thing.  Each death and injury represents human suffering.  Each accident is a loss of time and money.  But will these high tech gadgets really solve the problems of autos in this country?

Researchers are developing sensors on cars that can automatically detect how close cars are, stop cars if they are about to hit a stationary object or a pedestrian, perhaps they will be entirely driverless. You will be able to sit back, let the computer take you to your destination, perhaps even get some shut eye or read.  These innovations will allow more cars to use a given stretch of road and reduce accidents by reducing human error. They hold the promise of reducing accidents caused by fatigue and distraction or even by alcohol.

Putting aside the skepticism that these mechanisms will work 100% of the time (I keep thinking of the old joke – If Microsoft built cars they would crash a couple of times a day), let’s assume they will work.  We will have fewer accidents and deaths.  Capacity will be increased.

We will also have continued obesity problems, physical inactivity, over consumption of land, sprawl, etc.  In other words, these new technologies will not solve all of the many problems associated with car use.  The overreliance on cars causes so many problems, have had such a profound negative impact on society, that mere technological changes to make them more efficient will miss the point.

The use of these technologies are what are known as narrow solutions.  They solve a small (but important) problem, but ignore the broad problems.  They are literally no panacea to the problems posed by cars in this country.