Auto Emergency Braking saves lives, yes, but Karl also feels that it’s killing something
else that keeps us alive – driving skill.
The first time I experienced it, the trepidation was enormous. Lined up in a car park, heading straight for a wall with a huge piece of reflective tape across it, I was instructed not to touch the brakes. Instinct is a powerful motivator. I just had to put my right foot on the footwell floor and hope for the best. Thankfully, the car ground to a halt – perfectly in this case. In that moment I gained some trust that autonomous braking technology actually works.
The second time was pulling into my driveway. Having driven into my garage a few times in my life, I know how far the garage door has to come up before I can scoot underneath it. Problem is a car doesn’t. All it sees is a huge obstacle in the way and determines that I haven’t touched the brakes. Its decision? Slam on the anchors. It looks a bit ridiculous when your neighbours are watching and you loudly screech to a halt in your own driveway. But, again, Auto Emergency Braking (AEB) worked.
So, that’s a good thing – right? Wrong. Very wrong. It’s about time we called it out: AEB is killing our driving ability. It’s making us dumber drivers, because we’re relying on it to save our skin.
Okay, I know that you’re thinking that only a few months ago I wrote about how good the driverless car is and that Merc’s E-Class is a huge step in the right direction. And that’s true. But the difference is that autonomous vehicles include all technologies and integrate them. When a car is fully driverless, there’s no need to have any driving skills because the machine covers all the bases. But AEB is killing off a hugely important part of a collective skill set needed to keep us alive while we’re driving.
Watch any of the Russian dash cam videos on YouTube and you’ll see how many times people get rear ended because they’re not paying attention. And depending on which videos you watch, people are killed. Surely cars (or trucks) fitted with AEB would have saved those lives. That logic makes sense – one life saved is worth it, and that’s true; life is truly precious. However that argument neatly sidesteps the real issue – the people causing the accident.
Let’s take a look at the road rules. If you’re following too closely behind a car and you hit them, it’s your fault. If you’re looking at your phone and run up someone’s backside, it’s your fault. If you’re at traffic lights and the person in front changes their mind and brakes and you just tap them – yep, it’s your fault. In fact, it doesn’t matter what has happened, if you hit the car in front, it’s automatically your fault.
So, if you can’t brake in time, either your eyes aren’t working (which means you shouldn’t drive), or you don’t pay enough attention (which means you shouldn’t drive), or your reaction time isn’t quick enough (again, this means you shouldn’t drive). Seeing the pattern here? Relying on a car to do the job the driver is supposed to do to keep themselves and their passengers safe isn’t just peak laziness, it masks a skill shortage.
If our cars are fitted with AEB without going fully autonomous then we’re simply shirking our responsibilities as drivers and not living up to that premise. Yes, auto emergency braking is killing off our driving skills.
The age old saying is “Drive to Survive” – let’s sharpen our skills and keep our eyes on what’s happening in front of us. Our lives literally depend on it.