Who’s controlling your car in long distance driving?

Robotics and artificial intelligence are often mentioned in the news.cute-807306_1280

Will robots take over from humans in self-driving cars? Robots can ‘talk’ to each other over networks with ‘cloud robotics’ so where does a human driver fit in with this scheme?

Recently a car was on the news when the driver lost control of its steering to demonstrate how it was able to be hacked.

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But what happens if  your driver becomes seriously ill when driving? Do you know how to stop the car and be safe? No robots or hackers, but just plain unfortunate circumstances such as a heart attack, stroke or even extreme fatigue. Or in my mother’s case having an inquisitive child many moons ago.

Perhaps this would be more suitable for my ‘I remember’ pages, but I still recall vividly the day I was in the front passenger seat, no seatbelts required, in my mother’s blue Fiat  500. I must have only been a few years old. She was driving and in the middle of turning left from a 2 – way road into our home country lane lined with blackberry bushes and birds’ nests. I saw the ignition key in front of me on the dashboard. ‘Wonder what will happen if I turn this?’

L hand drive with ignition key in centre of dashboard I turned it and the car stopped. Dead. Immediately. My mother was very cross. I still remember it decades later. Never, never, did I repeat this. My mother lost control of her car.  I don’t believe one can do this today, especially in modern cars.

For a start if there is an ignition key, it is hidden next to the side of the steering wheel away from the passenger and hard to find especially in underground garages with poor lighting. In modern cars, there may be no key but only a start/stop button to press which is only functional when the gear is in neutral. There are many safety features which prevent cars being controlled by a passenger. But in an emergency, perhaps there may be a brake handle or button on the central console which the passenger can use to slow the car, but not stop it. And then one would have to grab the steering wheel to direct the car to safety. One of the roles of the navigator is to check the state of the driver. If the driver is fatiguing, suggest a stop and rest or swap roles of driver/navigator. Safety in long distance driving is paramount.

Again modern cars are designed with safety in mind. To illustrate how this could never happen today in a modern vehicle, I recall being a  passenger in a 1920’s beauty. My driver had started the engine one morning, which then needed a few minutes warming before the engine temperature rose enough before we could  proceed. He thought the gearstick was in neutral before hopping out to check something outside, maybe the bonnet clasps. The gears were on the external side of the driver’s seat. I was patiently waiting as passenger and realized the old car was slowly reversing into the hotel wall behind. Lurching violently far across the driver’s seat, I managed to haul onto the gear lever and shove it back into neutral, all without using the clutch peddle. Phew. Today’s modern vehicles have far too many safety precautions for that to happen  but it has still made me paranoid about safety and control.

Which brings me back to my original question; who controls your car? At the moment it is still you, as driver. So before robots and artificial intelligence control your vehicle, hop in, plan a fun and interesting route and enjoy a long distance drive and be safe.

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Until next month.

About Jeanne Eve

Jeanne Eve lives in Australia and enjoys long distance driving to new places combined with her love of travel, writing, eating and fun company. In former times, she was a speech pathologist so appreciates the desire for good health and effective communication. She is married and has two daughters and two step-sons.

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