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10 things auto manufacturers are doing wrong

Published September 26, 2012
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I have driven just about every make of car and seen more than my share of strange designs and ideas. It seems to me that the bean counters, stylists and marketing people have too much say in the design of our autos to the detriment of safety. The new innovations and styles I see on cars, trucks and SUVs make we wonder: what are they thinking? Here is my top 10 list of auto developments and add-ons that just shouldn’t even make it to the showroom floor.

1. Visual distractions for drivers: Distracted driving is easily one of the most common causes of crashes and collisions. Any “infotainment” centre as they are referred to should only allow the driver to view information when the vehicle is stopped, in park or with the hand brake on. When it comes to GPS information, I’m all for the driver having audio prompts to indicate where to turn, etc., but having any motorists be able to look at a map instead of out the windshield to where they are headed is down-right crazy. I was appalled to hear a respectable manufacturer, BMW, well known for the engineering, offering drivers access to Facebook and Twitter while driving. What BMW was thinking, I don’t know. They do have a warning not to use it while driving, but they have to know that is not enough. Even passing laws that prohibit driver-distracting devices doesn’t deter enough people from using those devices while driving. If they won’t pay heed to the law, what good is their warning going to do?

2. Electronic driving aids: There are a few driving aids that make sense. Electronic Stability Control is certainly one of the better ideas. Even ABS (Anti-lock Brake System) is a good idea as long as the driver understands the shortcomings of this system. However, there are some that really don’t do the driver any favours. Active Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detector all take responsibility away from the driver. That is known to lead to more distracted driving. When a driver has less to do and relies on electronics to do those driving tasks, it frees them up to do anything else other than drive. Not a good thing for motoring safety. If a motorist can rely on a system that will automatically slow their vehicle if it gets too close to another or will warn them if they start to meander out of their lane or if there is another vehicle in their blind spot, then why bother to drive when all these electric gizmos are doing it for them?

3. Large blind spots: I can understand the need for a reduction in aerodynamic drag for better fuel efficiency but when they recline the windshield and have to enlarge the “A pillars” to support the roof and create large blind spots, it seems they have sacrificed safety for economy. I have driven vehicles with blind spots large enough to hide a truck in. With the technology available to automotive engineers you would think they could come up with a better way to design the A pillars so a blind spot wasn’t part of the product. When I was in Stuttgart with Mercedes Benz, I discussed this issue with their engineers. We worked out an idea to have a camera in the vehicle’s side view mirrors and then project the image of what is behind the A pillar onto the inside of the A pillar for the driver to see. Sounds like a workable solution to me. Stylists have also hampered rearward vision for the sake of looks. Outward vision is critical to safe driving so please stop sacrificing safety for styling.

4. Red rear turn signals: Turn signals are an important part of driving communication. These indicators should be as easy to see by other motorists as possible. When the rear turn signals are red and blend in with the brake and tail lights and in some cases share a bulb with these other lights, it takes away from their effectiveness. There is no reason for it other than styling and saving a few bucks. Safety should never take a back seat to styling or profit and turn signals should stand out bright, clear and amber colour.

5. Separate brake lights: Brake lights should have their own separate bulb and be much brighter than the tail lights. There is no excuse for blending the brake lights into the tail lights other than styling and to appease the bean counters by saving a few bucks. Neither reason should trump the safety of separate and brighter brake lights. LED brake lights should be mandatory as their ability to instantly illuminate compared to the incandescent bulb, and their bright light, can give following motorists more reaction time to emergency braking situations.

6. Headlights that mask turn signals: I have seen some vehicles where the turn signal is part of the headlight assembly. This design puts the turn signal in very close proximity to the headlight and the brightness of the headlight can mask the turn signal making it almost impossible for approaching motorists to see the signal. Some vehicles have the headlight turn off when the signal is activated which works well enough. Some, however, do not and the turn signal is lost in the glare of the headlight.

7. Fog lights: This option should be dropped altogether in North America (except Newfoundland where thick fog occurs regularly). The vast majority of motorists and truckers have no idea when or how to use these lights and leave them on all the time even on the clearest of nights. The result is blinding to oncoming drivers and totally unnecessary. Until motorists learn how to use these lights properly, just leave them off the option list.

8. Bluetooth technology: It is a fact that even hands free phone conversations are a distraction to the driver. Instead, manufacturers should make it so that any cell phone cannot be used by a vehicle occupant unless the vehicle is in park or the hand brake is on. The only exception would be for a 911 call. Since most motorists are not responsible enough to put their phones down and drive, the manufacturers should step in and make it impossible for them to drive in that irresponsible manner. If drivers really need to converse now, park it and enjoy the chat. At least don’t put the rest of us at risk by driving distracted.

9. Bigger ain’t always better: For some reason, car manufacturers have been thinking that with each consecutive model redesign, the new vehicle has to be bigger than the previous. Just about every manufacturer has fallen into this bad habit. Bigger isn’t always better. With size comes mass and with mass comes inertia. This fact of physics usually results in poorer fuel economy and handling. Large vehicles tend to block the vision of other motorists due to their size. It makes it tougher to see around or past bigger vehicles.

10. Show your clients what their vehicles’ safety features do and do not do: I am amazed at how little most motorists know about their vehicles’ safety features. Many have no idea of how their ABS is supposed to work which is one of the more common and simplest of safety features. Most do not understand how their stability control works and what the limits are. Why not provide a day of education for your customers so they know how to use the safety features properly? A vehicle is “heavy equipment” and any manufacturer of equipment that has the potential to be deadly should come with proper operating education. Since more people die in vehicle crashes than any other type of equipment usage, maybe better education will help reduce the carnage. Help take the “car” out of carnage!

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