Opinion: Make Collision Avoidance Systems Mandatory

July 31, 2011
When I was a teenager back in the '80s, we relied almost exclusively on the car to get us around. It was the car because the bus was slow and infrequent. Furthermore, a car was a sign you were successful enough to not have to resort to public transportation. Or worse - your bike.

I also remember watching the news reports on China from that era that always showed images of thousands of commuters on bikes swarming around cars like schools of little fish alongside the odd big fish. Streams of human-propelled, two-wheeled workers on their way to some working paradise. And I used to think, “how do those poor suckers on their bikes not get killed by the cars and trucks streaming alongside them?”

Fast-forward some 30 years and the world has changed so much so that China is packed from end to end with cars while cyclists have become the rarity on many busy Chinese roads with the accompanying traffic jams and eye-watering, lung-sizzling pollution. 

And now the opposite is happening in North America.

People here are getting on their bikes and leaving their cars at home, specifically in major and densely populated metropolitan areas. No, they aren’t abandoning their cars en masse, but they are taking bicycles in ever greater numbers. Bike lanes are appearing in more cities than before. Furthermore, I just saw a report about the ever increasing bike-car collisions across Canada and New York City and Boston as people use bikes for transportation, not just recreation.

2012 Ford Mustang equipped with SYNC AppLink

2012 Ford Mustang equipped with SYNC AppLink

There is an interesting dimension that needs to be made before I get to the point. Cars back then weren’t rolling entertainment chambers like they are now. If you watch any ad from Ford, they tout their Sync and MyTouch systems almost more than any other feature after fuel economy. Audi’s A7 and A8 are available as rolling WLANs, and Audi pumps the fact their cars are super connected. BMW’s iDrive obviously cannot be ignored, but I am wondering if it should be renamed iDistract or iPlay, because a huge number of the functions on it now are for infotainment as much as driving. 

We all know about the deathly outcome of texting and driving, not to mention people who still refuse to get a hands-free system for their phones. However, car companies as well are banking on more electronics and touchscreens and Internet enablement in their cars to make them attractive to Gen X and Y buyers. The things that distract us and lead to collisions are what sell cars nowadays.

My solution: Legislate collision-avoidance systems like Volvo offers to become standard equipment. Heck, the NHTSA is legislating stability control for 2012 on new cars, so why not this? After reading about how effective Volvo’s system is, reducing collisions by up to 25%, why not let the government legislate it in? Better yet, if a car company sells an infotainment system as standard, or even as an option, they should also have to make standard a collision avoidance system.

Cost-prohibitive, you say? When produced in sufficient quantities, the cost will come down to a few hundred bucks per car. Nanny-ism you say? I agree, but we driving apes are not a smart bunch so why not instead use technology to prevent the car-bike collision that will become ever more familiar in North America. Drivers must be responsible for their actions, you say? I totally agree, but that’s wishful thinking and it won’t prevent another pedestrian, cyclist, or other motorist from being killed by the dude fiddling with his Facebook privacy settings from the driver’s seat of his car.

Time for the government to step in do what’s right. Make collision avoidance systems standard equipment. 

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