As you know from my previous columns, I love to write about new automotive technologies affecting the industry. I can’t wait for the day when I can leave the task of maneuvering through traffic jams to my car so I don’t have to deal with the stop-and-go headaches. I also can’t wait until all drivers can receive warnings of upcoming road hazards or other issues that could impede their driving. While there are a lot of reasons to welcome these new technologies, I have never addressed any potential downsides at length. There are a number of things about advanced-technology vehicles that have been gnawing at me, so I will use this space as my own personal therapy — and hopefully it gives you some things to ponder.
Driver distraction is one of the biggest factors contributing to the large number of vehicle crashes on the roads today. With more and more distractions coming to the center stack, how can anyone be expected to focus on driving? Regarding this issue, I think that the lobby for cellular companies has prevailed to the detriment of its customers.
You may think that what I’m about to say is overstated, but a recent study of millennial drivers revealed that 77% of those surveyed said they are “reasonably to very confident” that they can text while driving competently. Disputing that assertion were the results of a AAA survey that found that the No. 1 cause of death in this age group is car crashes.
Further, 88% of the 19- to 24-year olds admitted to engaging in at least one dangerous behavior while driving, with texting, running red lights or speeding topping the list. This generation is out there taking risks that are evident with the growing annual number of deaths behind the wheel. The way I see it, any distracting device that is likely to impede driver function needs to be voice commanded or turned off when the car is in drive.
As more safety equipment becomes standard on new vehicles, it seems likely that there will be two inherent risks. First, drivers will get desensitized to constant badgering from these systems and will either turn them off or ignore them altogether. The second risk is even more dangerous. We will come to rely on them to a degree that drivers stop relying on their eyes and ears to guide their driving behavior.
My last issue hits directly on autonomous vehicle (AV) technology. I have said before that if you can write a standard operating procedure, it is likely that a robot can perform it unless creativity and human problem solving are required. If you look at the number of jobs that are involved with human operation of a vehicle, it seems like there are a very large number of entry- to mid-level jobs hanging in the balance. There are truck drivers, delivery drivers, cab drivers, Uber drivers and so on. When all of these job functions are replaced by AVs with artificial intelligence, what do we do with all of these folks who find themselves out of work? I see the potential for this type of job loss to devastate a large segment of our population.
Our craft as we know it today is in the process of being completely redefined. The future is bright, but ever-changing for those who can work with the next generation of software-enabled vehicles. For those who anticipate being part of this next generation, it’s imperative to understand and develop the skills where human creativity cannot be trumped by process.
Skills- and tech-based repair professionals will more likely than not be the ones in control of this industry’s future. The only question is, who’ll do the work today to capitalize on tomorrow’s impending opportunities?