Automotive electronics are (not) the problem

Is it just me, or do people need to feel terrified of something? A couple of years ago, it was BPA in plastic bottles. Today, it's software and microelectronics in cars.

If recent headlines are anything to go by, in-car microelectronics are wreaking havoc on our highways. Toyota is bearing the brunt of this media frenzy, even though a Carnegie Mellon professor has calculated that walking a mile is 1,900% more dangerous than driving a mile in a recalled Prius.

I'm not trying to whitewash anything here. If any auto manufacturer has quality control problems, they need to address them, period. I'm just saying that folks need to focus their fears on something else. Because research suggests that automotive microelectronics are saving lives, not taking them.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, less than 34,000 people died on U.S. roads in 2009 — a record low. In fact, automotive-related fatalities and serious injuries are at their lowest in 49 years.

This improvement can be traced to many factors, including increased seat-belt use and a crackdown on drunk driving. But microelectronics-based systems also play a role. For instance, electronic stability control systems (ECS) — which can be found on many cars, including Toyotas — save an estimated 5300 to 9600 lives annually, according to the NHTSA and IIHS.

Check out Rick DeMeis on TechBites, who provides a table showing the contribution of ECS and other microelectronics systems to vehicle safety. And while you're at it, check out Andy Gryc's post, "Toyota's woes: why simplistic solutions are dangerous".

Thanks to Jason Clarke at Crank Software for pointing me to the NHTSA report.


Kel said...

According to what I read, the driver of the latest out-of-control Prius chose to disregard the advice of both the 911 operator and the CHIP, who both told him to put the car in neutral. If that's so, perhaps this is more of a wetware problem than anything else.

Paul N. Leroux said...

Hey Kel, believe it not, I never heard the term "wetware" before! Gotta remember that one.