Safety Technology Makes Cars Unsafe

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

Don Norman thinks cars are too safe. In an interview with BusinessWeek re: his new book, The Future Design of Things, the design guru says he's changed his view of technology. Previously, Norman said machines should adapt to their users. Now he says humans are much more adaptable than machines, so human should take the time to learn to use a machine properly– instead of blaming the machine when it doesn't work as expected. iDriving home the point, he zeroed-in on all the technology aimed at making cars safer: "…a problem with automation in cars is that we can forget that driving is dangerous. How can we ask car drivers to be alert when it seems like not much is happening when they're in an automated car?" Normal wants automakers to provide "natural feedback" of hazards in the environment– instead of isolating the driver from them. For example, when it's raining, the sound system should amplify the noise instead of muffling it, alerting the driver to be more alert. He's also of the opinion that technology needs to be simpler to use and more intuitive, obviating the need for a thick user manual to figure it out. Which contradicts his first point, which, in Norman's circles, is called an enigma.

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  • Michal Michal on Dec 06, 2007

    Here we go again. Another article that generates the following response template: Cars have too many electronic nannies. When I was [insert age] in the [70s|80s] I drove a [name of old unsafe car] and I didn't have [ABS|ESP|disc brakes] and I learned [to drive properly|not crash]. Cars today [have no soul|have too many gadgets|are not built like they used to]. I propose taking it one step further: anyone who drives an automatic car simply isn't a safe driver. They can fall asleep at the wheel with a foot on the accelerator while the slushbox happily changes gears for them to achieve an even higher speed.

  • 210delray 210delray on Dec 06, 2007

    Michal, I agree and I'll add that the risk homeostasis theory has no basis in fact for driving. Show me a study -- can't be done, because there isn't one. Regarding that hoary steel spike on the steering wheel, would you really have that in place of an airbag if some idiot decides to pull out in front of your car at the last second? Or are you supposed to drive at 10 mph so you can stop in time? Same goes for cable-actuated brakes on the rear axle (only) like the Model A Ford.

  • Martin Schwoerer Martin Schwoerer on Dec 07, 2007

    I think that risk homeostasis is more than a theory -- it is actually the missing link that explains why as cars get safer, traffic deaths do not decrease in proportion. (That said: they are decreasing in number!) The problem is measuring risk homeostasis. I know of no controlled testing environment for RH but if anybody does, I would appreciate their sharing it with us. The other week, I was at a traffic safety conference where the question was asked: all this stuff is nice and welcome, but what about compensatory risk behavior? The manager of the event replied: "Yes, exactly. Actually, we should arrange a conference on that very topic".

  • Windswords Windswords on Dec 07, 2007

    nicke: "How many people take their car to an empty parking lot the first snow-fall each year?" Yes! I use to do that. And, along with teaching my boys to drive stick, I would do it again, but alas, I live in Florida, so unless a new ice age comes that won't happen. dean: "So the headline is not quite correct. Safety technology doesn’t make cars unsafe, it makes the drivers unsafe." I agree 100%