Never Stop Driving #6: Crash and burn

NHTSA, the government agency in charge of vehicle safety, reported what we already knew: Cars with “autopilot light” driver-assistance systems still crash. The report contains nine months of data that was voluntarily reported by car companies. Accordingly, there were nearly 400 crashes and six fatalities.

This report was simply a data dump. We still don’t know if those numbers mean that the systems make the cars safer or not. Automotive safety is, after all, such a complicated topic, with so many mitigating factors. Some 20 years ago, I interviewed an analyst from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute who said that I could dramatically reduce my risk of dying in a car crash if I stayed off the roads on weekend nights. Those are the times you’re most likely to encounter an impaired driver.

I’m often asked by fellow parents, “What’s the safest car?” Talk about a loaded question! I deflect by asking what kind of accident your teenager driver plans to have. If that doesn’t kill the inquiry, I share what I’ve done with my own kids: I focus on training and the principle that safety begins with the driver. There are several inexpensive teen-training programs like the Hagerty Driving Academy, the SCCA’s Tire Rack Street Survival, and Teen Street Skills, developed by former Indycar driver Robbie Buhl. Hagerty also has its “License to the Future” program that covers the cost for Drivers Education Training so no young driver can be denied proper training due to financial hardship.

The great hope with autonomous driving is that the robots will dramatically increase passenger and pedestrian safety. Perhaps someday, but today we’re in a messy, transitional time of burgeoning technology that our own Aaron Robinson deftly  \. I wish we had an agreed set of terms to define the current driver-assistance systems. Tesla’s driver assist is called “Autopilot,” yet the driver needs to be ready to take over. When is a car really autonomous?

That question was elegantly answered by the writer Alex Roy who posited that a car can only be called self-driving if a person can take a nap when behind the wheel. I like that.

If you really want to drive with absolutely zero risk, you could always steer an RC car. We recently attended the Ultimate Scale Truck Expo, which brings together off-roading scale-model enthusiasts. Our article and amazing photos honor this very passionate group. The little cars look incredibly, ummm, real.

This week’s inspiration to get behind the wheel comes via Jason Cammisa and the new ICONs video on the Nissan Z. Enjoy.

Have a great weekend!

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