Acura’s Automatic Braking System’s Flaws and The Technology of Self-Driving Cars
Technology is great, until it isn’t. We’re moving towards self-driving vehicles, whether we like it or not. And the recent recalls of Acura for over-diligent braking systems is a little scary. The automaker has recalled about 48,000 2014 and 2015 MDX SUV’s and the RLX sedan models for a software glitch that causes the vehicle to incorrectly detect a possible collision and apply the brakes.
Acura has a “collision mitigation braking system” on some of its vehicles that uses radar to scan the road in front of the vehicle. If it determines that the vehicle might hit something, it applies brakes.
Sometimes, apparently, in the defective automobiles the “system can become confused”. (WashingtonPost.com, 6/11/15) When a vehicle in front of it begins to accelerate and the vehicle you’ are driving is next to a guardrail or iron fence the car may incorrectly apply the brakes. It has reportedly only happened two times, and Honda has identified the problem and is offering software updates to fix it.
Experts compare this necessary “tweaking of software” to the process used when air bags were first being used and small adults or children were injured when airbags inflated. The adjustments are always necessary on new technology. It is a kind of a learning curve one assumes. Air bags have saved many lives, according to Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst for Autotrader. (Note: ignore the Takata airbag recall for the time being)
This story comes just as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigates similar complaints about the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s braking system. Time will tell how serious that issue is, and how many other makes and models may be affected.
Technology has saved lives and made driving easier and safer, there is no question. And, perhaps software and computers can enhance our ability to navigate traffic – when they do not unsafely distract us. NHTSA is talking about automatic warning and braking systems as a standard feature on personal and commercial vehicles. Both Tesla and Google are testing self-driving vehicles. Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti offer options that allow the car to take over for a driver.
We are not quite there yet. There will be legal issues to be addressed at both the state and federal levels. A spokesman for NHTSA said that “any autonomous vehicle would need to meet applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards” and that the agency “will have the appropriate policies and regulations in place to ensure the safety of these types of vehicles.” Insurance companies will surely have something to say about self-driving vehicles. Who is at fault if a self-driving vehicle causes a crash and injures or kills someone? Not only may the driver be at fault, but the manufacturer of the automobile, and/or subcontractors or vendors who supplied defective software. Could a drunk driver avoid responsibility by using “auto-pilot”? Each new technological advance we achieve brings a whole host of benefits, questions, and potential problems with which consumers and regulators will have to contend.