Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

03.7.2020 Fairfax Tech Talk Column 205


It was the night before my twenty-first birthday party and I was in high spirits. For some inexplicable reason, it was decided we should test the idiom of “zìxīang máodùn” or more simply put, what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

In this case the unstoppable force was my V8 253 Holden HZ Ute and the immovable object was a 6.5m Ironbark pole with a 300mm radius that was buried 2m into the ground.

As any good scientist would tell you, the answer to a theoretical question is experiment.

The result of the testing was that the immovable object remained largely intact and I am only here to tell you the tale because of the work of Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin in 1958 and a 1970 announcement by the Chief Secretary of the Victorian State Government, Sir Arthur Rylah.

Technology had saved my life and the lives of two friends in the car. The modern seat belt was invented by Bohlin whilst working for Volvo and the car manufacturer then generously gave it to the world, saying it was too significant as a life-saving tool. The Victorian Government was the first in the world to make the wearing of a seat belt compulsory.

In 1929 and 2018 the road toll in Australia was almost identical – 1,145 and 1,135 - but the highest fatality year, both in outright numbers and per capita, was 1970. 3,798 people lost their lives at an average of 30.4 per 100,000 of our population.

When you look at a graph of our road toll over the last century, there are obvious changes when technology has advanced or legislation has been changed.

The introduction of radial tyres in 1948 saw the road toll show major improvements for a decade. The seat belt in 1970 has been the greatest single factor in the history of the car to reduce the fatality rate. The introduction of random breath testing in 1982 saw immediate benefits. Australian Design Rule 69 was introduced in 1995 and made air bags compulsory but they had already started to be introduced by various manufacturers over the previous fifteen years.

We may shake our heads with the benefit of hindsight, but with each technological breakthrough, car manufacturers typically ignored the option at first, then offered it as an expensive option or in their high-end vehicles before either governments or market forces deemed the product compulsory.

With some incredible safety options now available for a modern car, one research study has actually placed a figure on how many lives are being lost with the technology delay. The study concluded that if it was compulsory for all new cars to have all the latest safety technology installed, fifty-eight per cent of current fatalities would be avoided.

The types of technology we are talking about here are extensive. Electronic stability control; improved braking systems including anti-lock braking systems and electronic brake-force distribution and one of my favourites, automatic emergency braking; lane departure warning systems (or lane keep); blind spot detection; facial alertness recognition; traction control; active cruise control; intelligent speed assist; pedestrian detection systems; vehicle to vehicle communications; drink driving prevention technologies; adaptive cruise control and many more.

Of course, these systems cost money. If all of these systems were deployed in every new car, the estimation is that it may increase the price of a new car by up to $15,000 which, particularly at the entry level, is a significant sum of money. But what price a human life?

Tell me the one technology item you believe should be compulsory in new cars at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson