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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Connected cars are coming

The steady addition of features such as radial tires, disc brakes, traction control, stability control, anti-lock brakes, air bags, and warning systems for sleep, low tires, lane departure, side impact, et cetera have made our cars safer with each new model year.

Advancements like those are generally credited with saving lives, but for some drivers, these things actually compromise safety.  That’s right, it is thought that the safer the cars get, the less safe some drivers are.

That’s because of principals theorized by the Peltzman Effect.  In his study, Professor Sam Peltzman of the University of Chicago explains how regulations frequently fall short of their goals — or even make matters worse than they would have been — because of offsetting personal or market behavior.

I didn’t have a term for it, but two weeks ago, I mentioned that the efforts of the Transportation Security Administration have effectively reduced the number of people that would otherwise fly if the TSA screening process were not so feared.  This fear influences a segment of travelers to shift to a statistically less-safe form of transportation:  long distance driving.  I now know that this example supports the Peltzman effect.

 Using similar logic and unwittingly adding credence to the Peltzman Effect, reader R.T. supposed side-effects to the presence of Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems in the same column.  He suggested that the extra costs associated with winter tire changeover on TPMS-equipped vehicles may induce some owners to forego the addition of winter tires, or do the job themselves causing injury or safety issues (improper lug torque).

As it applies to motor vehicles, the Peltzman Effect uncovers and explains a disturbing trend:  Drivers who feel safer in their cars tend to take greater risks. The safer our vehicles become, the more complacent we are behind the wheel.

 These side effects are essentially the result of human perception or behavior, which makes a case for systematic removal of the human element for driving.  Driverless, or autonomous cars have been discussed here a few times, and current testing in Nevada and California shows great potential for their future.

But while autonomous operation may be a decade or more from mainstream, “connected” cars will be an intermediate step toward eliminating the ill-effects of driver complacency attributed to the Peltzman effect.  And connected cars are coming.

Via a dedicated short-range communications system similar to WiFi, connected cars can see danger, warn others, and stop crashes.  Farid Ahmed-Zaid, technical expert for Ford Motor Company, said, alluding to many drivers’ part-time attention, “It can see, we can’t.”

In test vehicles equipped with the technology, data is transmitted ten times per second regarding their speed, location, path history and brake status.  If a vehicle is running a red light or trying to move into an occupied lane, a buzzer sounds or a seat vibrates to alert the driver; automatic braking and steering can also be activated by the system, if need be, to avoid a pending collision.

The main goal of connected vehicle technology is to bring a dramatic reduction in traffic fatalities by helping drivers avoid the types of crashes that most often cause them:  collisions in intersections, or while changing lanes, or rear-ending stopped cars.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that this technology could lower the death rate in about 80 percent of crashes that don’t involve drunk drivers.

Connected car feasibility is being researched by the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership:  eight automakers whose mission is to develop an industry wide communications system that is practical, effective and accepted by motorists.

CAMP members Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Volkswagen will test thousands of connected vehicles until next August to determine their viability in the real world and demonstrate a cause for inclusion of such technology in all new vehicles.

In volume production, one knowledgeable source has predicted the system to add only $100 to the cost of each connected vehicle.  Scale, privacy, security and interoperability (the ability of cars from various manufacturers to communicate) are the four essential issues that the CAMP consortium has identified to sort out.  After that, connected cars are likely to emerge — stay tuned.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at