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Cedric Stephens Balancing road risk with technology

I drove four different motor vehicles during the last two weeks. Two were German: an Audi sedan and a BMW X3 SUV. The others were Japanese: a Nissan X-Trail SUV and a Subaru Impreza. Their ages ranged from two to 20 years.

No. I was not test-driving them. The opportunities to drive the vehicles occurred by chance. Despite the age variations, among the many common features they shared was the deployment of different levels of technology that assist drivers to operate their vehicles more safely and/or improve passenger safety.

Safety features include seat belts, airbags, sensors that display signals when all passengers are not wearing seat belts and/or doors that were not closed, a camera that was activated when the reverse gear was engaged and other ‘bells and whistles.’

The automotive section of last Sunday’s Gleaner shared highlights of current car-tech trends. It featured concepts that were on display by BMW and other car makers at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. BMW’s talking electric sedan with AI or artificial intelligence that the manufacturer said “will go beyond the level of voice control and driver assistance systems we are familiar with today”, occupied the top spot. Honda’s Afeela prototype, with about 45 cameras and sensors was impressive with its many safety features.

Persons who criticised the February 1 launch of the Road Traffic Act 2018 and the regulations, like the public transport operators and the writer of last Thursday’s Gleaner editorial – ‘Little things, great legacy’ – should have adopted a more balanced approach when they blamed the authorities for the “messy roll-out” of the new law, their unwillingness to grant additional amnesties to persons with unpaid traffic tickets, and the size of fines for traffic violations.

Some motorists have had access to safe driving tools in their vehicles for over two decades but have not changed their driving behaviour to accommodate them. Is this behaviour any different from that of over 70 per cent of the population who refused to be vaccinated and/or wear masks when COVID-19 was raging?

Local motor and life insurers, surprisingly, also appear to be ignorant of the current trends of using smart technology to provide driver assistance in motor vehicle manufacturing. Also, it remains unclear whether insurers offer premium discounts for features that provide driver assistance and enhance passenger safety. When it comes to offering explanations for risky driving behaviour on our roads, the typical response is the lack of enforcement of the regulations by the authorities.

Drivers cause 94 per cent of all traffic accidents in the United States, according to experts. Driving at excessive speeds is one factor. The following example illustrates how easily available technology can be used to solve an everyday problem like driving at excessive speeds. The BMW owner to whom I previously referred was penalised for exceeding the speed limit on the Edward Seaga Highway or North-South Toll Road. The vehicle was being driven at 110 kilometres per hour after February 1. The speed limit is 80kph in some places and 50kph in others. When asked if the vehicle was fitted with cruise control, the driver replied yes. The driver said that she forgot that this device was a standard feature in her vehicle. It can be pre-set so that the vehicle does not exceed a selected speed. The driver had the tool to avoid paying a fine to the authorities for exceeding the speed limit but did not use it.

Some vehicles are built with an adaptive cruise control system. This technology allows drivers to select and maintain a constant speed without using the accelerator. Adaptive cruise control systems can sense vehicles ahead and adjust the speed to keep a safe following distance. Others incorporate emergency braking to help slow your vehicle to avoid a collision.

Adaptive headlights are another example of responsive technology. They are designed to help illuminate the road ahead during turns and improve night-time visibility on curved roads. As you turn, the lights adjust to illuminate the roadway ahead.

The anti-lock braking system or ABS has been around for years, to the point that many drivers may not realise that this feature is a built-in safety requirement to keep their brakes from locking up when they stop. Even though ABS may not always help you stop more quickly, it can help you maintain control of your vehicle when you stop by preventing your wheels from skidding.

Obstacle avoidance can be challenging from the driver’s seat, according to US insurer, Travellers. Innovators have taken that challenge seriously with technologies that help. Is there an object behind you? Backup alarms can alert you to it, and backup cameras can help you to see behind your vehicle in spots that otherwise might not be seen. Likewise, blind spot monitoring technology can give you a heads-up when another car is in your blind spot. Sensors around your vehicle give you a warning when another car is detected. Depending on the vehicle, warnings can be visual, audible, or tactile.

It is not known if the framers of the new Road Traffic Act thought about self-driving vehicles when the new legislation was being discussed. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that some of these vehicles will be operating on Jamaican roads in the next five to 10 years. We should start using the technologies that are available today to prepare for the future.

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: or

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