When common sense is absent

by Bruce Richards

Where I sit most days, in what some refer to as Southern Ontario, some as mid-Ontario, and some simply with scorn, we are going through what seems to be the longest, coldest, winter in living memory.

And, according to The Weather Channel, we’re sharing this experience with most of Canada – it’s flat out frigid and miserable just about everywhere. One more thing Canadians have in common though is that we don’t whine about it for long. After arriving at work and going through the obligatory weather-related commentary with fellow sufferers, we usually just get down to whatever is on the to-do list for the day.

However, after watching the evening news and even visiting some YouTube sites over the past few weeks, I have come to believe that some people need to have winter driving decisions taken out of their hands.

Did you see the traffic videos of the scenes in and around Atlanta, Ga. in late January when, along with a bit of snow, the temperature dropped to near record lows? Chaos doesn’t begin to describe it. In Eastern Ontario, down around Kingston, where drivers should know better, we had similar scenes that necessitated highway closures.

There is a YouTube video of a scene on US-41 in Wisconsin taken in December of last year that demonstrates some of the worst possible driving in icy conditions. And yet this is another part of North America where people ought to know something about winter driving. Follow this link (or just Google US-41 traffic) and see if it doesn’t cause you some head scratching moments: www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXejFMxDoE8

We all know that we need to slow down in winter (or in any poor weather conditions for that matter), so what exactly propels some drivers to ignore the obvious and carry on as though it’s mid-July, the sun is shining, and they’ve got the road to themselves?

It seems that even in the best of weather, too-fast + too-close is the tenet for some drivers.

Adding any of ice, snow, fog, rain or other vehicles to the equation inevitably leads to the results I’ve described above.

There are obviously drivers who are not deterred by penalties in the way of fines and suspensions so what alternative measures might there be to actually get people to drive appropriately in bad conditions?

I am becoming ever more convinced that in some conditions we need to take decisions out of the hands (and feet) of the driver and look to technology to ensure everyone’s safety.

I know, I know – I’m about to trample on the rights of the individual. Just the way the mandatory use of seatbelts still does in the minds of some. But that argument just doesn’t wash. Where driving and public safety is concerned, we have already yielded individual rights to technological controls, and in most cases done so willingly.

For example, the trucking industry utilizes anti-rollover technology, speed limiters, and EOBRs to name a few. Automobiles have anti-lock braking systems, anti-skid systems, and where required by law, ignition inter-lock devices.

Technology in these cases does not represent an infringement on individual rights. It represents an effort to make the roads safer and most people willingly trade individual choice for the overall benefits of public safety.

Back to the collisions that I referred to above: I recently sat in on a presentation by Mr. John Woodrooffe of the University of Michigan. The presentation took place at the meeting of the Task Force on Weights and Dimensions Policy in Montreal and dealt with a study of the merits of Forward Collision Avoidance and Mitigation Systems (F-CAM). That’s a mouthful at best, but in a nutshell it’s using technology to prevent a vehicle from running into the back of another one.

Woodrooffe’s presentation dealt with the merits of utilizing such technology in commercial vehicles and it provided statistics that could support its adoption by the trucking community.

He described testing under different scenarios: lead vehicle in a collision being stopped; lead vehicle moving at a steady speed but slower than the trailing vehicle; lead vehicle decelerating; and the lead vehicle cutting-in.

The study suggested that F-CAM systems could reliably detect moving and stationary vehicles and apply braking in time to avoid or mitigate most collisions.

The study concluded that the current generation technology could provide a significant reduction in both the frequency and severity of truck rear-end collisions. This annual reduction in fatalities and injuries from collisions involving tractor-trailers could be as much as 25% with the current generation of technology up to something in excess of 50% by its third generation.

The effect of reducing collisions involving tractor-trailers by 25-50% could amount to anywhere from a billion dollars with the current technology to upwards of $2 billion a year with third-generation technology.

This is an over-simplification on my part but allow me to deal in concepts and ask if, apart from cost, there are any practical reasons why we shouldn’t explore having future generations of all cars and trucks so equipped? If we can’t teach common sense to avoid collisions, why not use technology?

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