The pace of innovation in the automobile industry has quickened, and while many technological developments are intended to make cars safer, some auto gadgets pose dangers as well.
Autonomous vehicle technology is one of the innovations that has captured the public’s imagination, and big promises have been made about its potential impact on safety as well. According to a study by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., the widespread use of self-driving cars could result in a 90 percent reduction in car accidents in the U.S., also saving $190 billion in health care costs and property damage. Mass adoption of the technology could become the norm as early as 2030.
Though consumers may initially balk at the idea of letting a car drive itself, claims that driverless cars are safer have so far been borne out by the limited data available from testing. Google said that its autonomous vehicles have been involved in 14 accidents over almost 2 million miles of testing since 2009, and all of them have been the fault of the driver behind the wheel of the other vehicle.
Even as some developing technology promises to make cars safer, other high-tech tools may actually cause more accidents. Distracted driving is a major cause of accidents, and other than cell phones, in-car infotainment systems are one of the biggest distractions. As many modern vehicles provide GPS navigation and the ability to make phone calls and send texts through voice activation, as well as peruse multiple music services, drivers spend more time interacting with electronics and less time with their eyes and attention on the road.
Computers in cars bring another danger as well. In July 2015, two security researchers demonstrated to a Wired reporter that they could take control of a Jeep SUV from a remote location, while the vehicle was traveling down the highway. The researchers were able to operate the radio, windshield wipers and air conditioning, and finally kill the engine, all from another location, by hacking into the vehicle’s internet-connected entertainment system. After the demonstration, Fiat Chrysler was forced to recall 1.4 million vehicles to update the software. The automaker also said that it installed “network-level security measures” to prevent future attacks.
Meanwhile, Tesla, arguably the most technologically innovative automaker in the world, was also shown to be vulnerable to hacking, though only when security researchers had physical access to the car. Researchers who hard-wired a laptop to the entertainment system of a Tesla S were able to start the car, and bring the car to a stop later, while someone else was driving. However, even Tesla’s response to the flaw seemed forward-thinking. While Chrysler had to issue a recall and send consumers a USB drive to download a software fix, Tesla had already sent an automatic software patch to every Model S on the road. Drivers simply had to click “yes” to an on-screen prompt.