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Sunday, 28 February 2016

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Road rage

Road rage is a term that we have all heard. It simply means getting angry while you are driving and yelling/gesturing at other motorists or pedestrians on the road. Road rage can be very dangerous - in other words, it can injure or kill either the driver or another party.

Now, a scientific study has confirmed that getting in the car when you are angry, or suffering from road rage could be putting your life at risk. The biggest study of its kind found that 'emotional drivers' - those who were clearly angry, sad or agitated - were around five times as likely to crash as those who were chatting on their mobile, which in itself can be deadly most of the time.

Overall, those overwhelmed by their emotions were 9.8 times as likely to have an accident as model (well behaved) motorists.

It is hoped the finding, from an analysis of millions of miles of motoring, will help governments, car manufacturers and drivers themselves think about how to make the roads safer. To find out what is behind the majority of crashes, researchers in the US fitted the cars of more than 3,500 people aged between 16 and 98 with an array of cameras, microphones and sensors.


 A driverless car,for a world without accidents         Pic.www.bbc.com

The cars travelled 60 million Km and were involved in 905 serious crashes. Most crashes involved driver error or distraction - mechanical faults and flat tires were rare. The motorists were judged to be angry, sad, agitated or openly crying on one in 500 journeys - increasing their odds of a crash almost ten-fold.

Emotional

This made driving while emotional more dangerous than driving while drowsy, fiddling with the radio or air conditioning or chatting to a passenger. Of course, drunk-driving, poor driving, sudden braking and failing to give way, also increase the chances of a crash.

These findings perhaps add nothing new to what we already know, but the value of quantified scientific research is that the data can be made available to policymakers, car manufacturers and law enforcement authorities to make our cars and roads safer. Computers and cameras on board some cars can already alert the driver if he or she falls asleep behind the wheel, but robotic intelligence is not yet advanced to discern human emotions such as anger and road rage. Scientists are likely to work on that aspect once they have enough data to make effective software programmes to detect such emotions as well.

Still, the best way to avoid an accident is to stay away from the wheel if you are angry or even sad.

If there is no one else to drive, it is best to calm down and then take the wheel after a lapse of a few minutes. Otherwise, you are likely to think about that row with the boss or colleague even when on the road.

Angry

If you get angry due to the actions of another motorist, it is generally advisable to pull over to the kerb and let it pass. You can also avoid situations where you may get angry - if somebody wants to have his or her way on the road and especially if you are not in a mighty hurry, just give that driver a minute of your time and let him or her pass on. That way, you maintain your composure without becoming a bundle of nerves.

Governments and law enforcement authorities must have more awareness programs for drivers. "It is not obviously feasible to eliminate all causes of driving distraction, but countermeasures such as driver awareness, education programs, better enforcement of existing laws and better crash avoidance systems on vehicles including automated braking systems, could have a measurable impact," said the researchers.

But there is a seemingly drastic alternative - eliminate the human driver altogether.

The argument is that if the car drives itself using an array of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other advanced technologies, most, if not all, accidents can be prevented. There is some logic to this argument. Machines never get angry, sad, tired, sleepy, nervous or distracted. Moreover, machines can already see and hear better than any human can. They will obviously not get any telephone calls while driving. An AI system will be able to drive a car even for 24 hours at a stretch without showing any sign of fatigue.

Wheel

Driverless cars are already with us, though they are still being tested on public roads. Most of them also have a human driver behind the wheel in case the robot takes a wrong decision.

But many proponents of driverless cars say very soon, it will be the other way around. Google has already simulated millions of hours of robotic driving on real roads and on the computer, with only a very few accidents. Most of them were also ultimately tracked to the remote human operators. A world without accidents is an ideal scenario, but it is very hard to imagine at present.

But a century from now, people will wonder what exactly we were doing behind the wheel when the cars could do it themselves. We will not have to wait for a century to see driverless cars, as Ford says the technologies could be in place by 2020. But there is a whole host of legal, regulatory, moral and technological problems to overcome.

Could the vehicles operate in all the various weather conditions that we are used to? Will the sensors be able to detect any changes in the road surfaces? What would happen if there was an emergency failure of the autonomous technology? What would the vehicle be able to do? Will they obey all traffic laws? Who would be responsible if there is an accident? In an accident scenario where, for example, only the parent or the child can be saved, who would the robotic car try to save? These are questions for which no clear answers are still available.

But if technology can actually prevent accidents caused by driver error and save thousands of lives, it will be worth waiting even a century for.

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