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Technology and the driver

By: Drivers.com staff

Date: 1999-01-15

Times have changed since the golden years of the automobile a few decades ago. Today, congestion, pollution, and safety problems are intensifying to the extent that there is a major question mark concerning the future role of the driver and the private automobile.

Road rage outbreaks may be a symptom of a system that is cracking under the strain as poorly trained drivers of powerful and agile cars, commercial vehicles, "sport-utes" and motorcycles vie with cyclists, pedestrians and other road users for increasingly scarce roadway space.

There has recently been a shift in focus from engineering and enforcement as solutions to traffic problems, back to the training and education of road users. However, recent rapid advances in information technology have re-energized the search for technological solutions. And many of the technologies coming down the pipe will likely present challenges of one kind or another to traffic safety professionals. Drivers will need to understand the benefits and disadvantages of the technologies in order to participate effectively in political decisions about their implementation.

Some of the new technologies

Dynamic Speed Adaptation. Getting drivers to adjust their speed to desired levels to accommodate other road users' needs is an ongoing problem. In its most basic form, DSA technology offers remote speed advice to drivers about appropriate speeds in particular stretches of roadway. Trials are being planned in Sweden and the Netherlands. Traffic planners are taking a keen interest in the systems but the auto manufacturing industry is adopting a more cautious approach to the new technologies. "We are interested in driver assistance, not interference," John Hollis of the European car makers association told Traffic Technology International magazine recently. Drivers can respond to emergencies in a combination of three ways, he said. they can brake, maneuver or accelerate. "Systems should not remove one of these degrees of control." Mr. P. Gustafsson, of Sweden's National Road Administration feels that the DSA technology offers drivers less congestion, less stress and fewer speeding tickets.

Road pricing technologies. The positive benefits of auto mobility are in danger of being overtaken by the negative side effects, writes Bengt Forsman, of Sweden's Combitech Traffic Systems AB in TollTrans, a supplement to a European Traffic Technology magazine. "These negative effects must be resolved in order to minimize the risk of a perception developing amongst road users and politicians that would seek to ban normal car traffic."

One way of avoiding traffic bans, Forsman suggests, is to cause drivers to be more efficient in their use of roads by using automated pricing systems in which they pay according to use. Drivers who use the roadway and the automobile inefficiently have a negative effect on other roads users and on those who depend on roads for efficient transportation, Forsman writes in an article dealing with the benefits of road pricing.

In most cases, today's drivers pay the same for road use regardless of when they travel (rush hour, for example), how much they pollute, the risks they pose to other road users or the wear they inflict on the roadway. Effective road pricing would make traffic and road use more efficient by charging drivers (or vehicle owners) according their level and efficiency of road use.

A variety of automated tolling systems are coming into use around the world, ranging from the electronic system on Ontario's highway 407, with it's all but invisible automated system (based on license plate photos and transponders), to a Chinese system in which booth operators manually enter information about a vehicle's classification (weight, axles, etc.) and a sophisticated system of cameras and electronic payment systems combine to exact payment by degree of road use.

Electronic toll roads are becoming popular around the world as a means of funding highway maintenance and development. One of the goal's of China's Ninth Five-year Plan is the completion of 150,000 miles (240,000 km) of highways by 2000. Financing by means of tolling systems will be a key element in the plan.

Driver assistance technologies. This is an area in which driver educators may play a key role. These technologies offer drivers assistance in the form of information and, increasingly if the technology developers have their way, in the form of input into control. However, they also offer the possibility of serious problems if drivers misuse them or become complacent because of them.

Adaptive Cruise Control uses sensors (E.G. infrared lasers or radar with a range up to 200 meters) to gather information about the roadway ahead. This information can be used to automatically control vehicle speed. Image processing techniques and sophisticated object tracking devices can be used to take over control of the vehicle in limited situations such as freeway driving. Using these systems, drivers may feel movements in the accelerator and brake pedals as the system controls vehicle speed, but they can override the system at any time.

Heading Control Systems make steering easy. Video cameras provide information about lane markings and electric servo motors provide input into steering. The driver feels light forces on the steering wheel as the vehicle responds to information from the cameras, but can override them at any time. These systems try to emulate the lane-keeping behavior of a Enormal´┐Ż driver.

Car Navigation Systems aid drivers in finding their destination, avoiding congestion and using roads efficiently. Global Positioning Systems can tell the driver the exact position of the vehicle in relation to a map. Information about traffic, local points of interest, or where to turn to reach a destination can be supplied to the driver using an onboard computer system.

Traffic message channels. Today's radio traffic reports have the disadvantage that drivers often have to listen to a great deal of information before getting what they need to make a decision, and they may not get it in time or at all. Future traffic reports are likely to come from specialized channels encoded in radio signals. These digitally encoded messages will be broadcast in parallel with radio programs and can be called up at any time.

Emergency response technology. With the power of information technology, the automobile of the future will always be in touch with assistance. Even the car that goes off the road and crashes in a remote area, leaving it's occupants unconscious, will be able to relay an emergency call to the most appropriate source of assistance. They deployment of an airbag, or even a low fluid level can be the signal to send a message to a service provider.

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