The latest on the Toyota “unintended acceleration” government information leaks talks about how data from the car’s computers have indicated that most instances were caused by drivers simply nailing the accelerators and missing the brakes. Shades of 1979 when Audi just about lost the US market because drivers were claiming that their Audis were zooming off on their own and killing and maiming.
To be true, the data collected is fragmentary, as often key data is lost when the accident causes a power disconnection or the car is towed to a storage facility and the battery goes dead before any data can be collected. Such is life in these days of ever present computer technology.
Maybe the solution is to do away with automatic transmissions in cars and force people to use a clutch again. What a draconian thought you say? Dictate what technology is in our cars for us?
Hey, wake up. Having our government dictate what technology is to be placed in cars is nothing new. From rear view mirrors, to lighting standards, to “air bags” (SRS technology), crash standards, ABS, TPMS, and on and on. If that bothers you, then you better just get over it because more is coming. A lot more.
Think you are in direct control of your car? Think again. Get ready to have even less direct control – for your own safety.
In the 1980’s computers were introduced into some basic control systems of a few cars. By the mid-1990’s OBD (on board diagnostics – electronic engine and emissions control) was becoming a necessity. By 1998 OBD II was mandatory and standards were established that all manufacturers had to comply with. Computers were going to rat out on us if our emissions gear experienced a failure. Welcome the “check engine light” that many covered with a piece of black electrical tape out of desperation when they discovered how expensive it would cost to keep their vehicle emissions compliant.
Now it is 2010 and computers abound in our cars. Not just one or two, it is often at least 35 and many cars can have 60 to 70 with 150 pounds of wiring connecting them to their sensors.
Government regulations will soon require Electronic Stability Control (ESC) as required equipment on all new cars. What is ESC? It is computer controlled programming that takes over the functions of the throttle and brakes from the driver for their own protection. ESC started being phased in in 2009 and in 2011 95% of new vehicles will have to have ESC. By 2012 all of them will.
Carefully watch the advertising of new cars today and you will see these capabilities marketed as new features. The car companies don’t tell you that they are mandatory; instead they market them as if they are adding a special upgrade for you.
All this means integration of the powertrain and chassis systems to a degree you have never before imagined. The engine, transmission, brakes, steering, and suspension will no longer be completely under your control.
If you have driven a newer Corvette or Mustang, or BMW you have seen Traction Control that can be switched off and on as the driver sees fit. Enjoy the freedom of choice while you can.
ESC, electronic throttle control (ETC), traction control (TC), and other controls will automatically keep you from spinning your wheels, locking your brakes, or turning too hard.
Electronic power steering (EPS) is the latest portion to be integrated into ESC so you may find that hydraulic power steering will become a charming antique. The change to an electric motor assist might provide a more positive feel for the driver when the computerized control systems are not taking over control.
The Nissan GTR super car has many electronic handling features that enhance the car’s ability to negotiate a road racing track with speed and agility. High performance driving instructors that have driven them have been totally impressed with their cornering performance, but find that they are just about useless as a vehicle that teaches drivers how to drive in high performance (track) situations. It doesn’t allow the driver to screw up as it controls the throttle, brakes, etc. when in high speed handling maneuvers. So a novice driver never learns the proper application of braking and throttle, instead they can just scream up to a corner – jam on the brakes – turn the wheel – and jam on the accelerator and the car will do the hard work (and thinking) for them.
The Evolution X from Mitsubishi also has applied extraordinary amounts of technology to the chassis controls in the form of what they call Active Suspension with Active Braking, Active Steering, Active Yaw Control, etc. It make a wonderful drive where you can do amazing things without developing real skills.
All this mandated application of electronic wizardry by our legislative bodies is ostensibly to protect us from ourselves, and in some instances it may do just that, but there is a little voice screaming inside me saying “you’ll be sorry”!