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Safe as houses: Murcott’s Driving Excellence general manager Mark Kelly says a lot of drivers ignore safety features in new cars.

FLEET managers should introduce their drivers to each new car in the fleet to ensure that they understand the safety systems and that drivers do not turn them off because of intrusive beeping, according to a senior driver training executive.

Many drivers are unaware of the raft of safety technology now available in cars and what it can do for them, said Mark Kelly, general manager of Murcott’s Driving Excellence, the biggest driving training organisation in Australia.

Mr Kelly told the 2017 Australasian Fleet Conference and Exhibition in Melbourne that some driver who are familiar with the systems are unaware that they do not work in every on-road situation.

He said he was recently coaching one driver and noticed the traction control was turned off. The driver said he never used it and turned it off when he got into the car.

Mr Kelly had to explain that it is a default system. It automatically comes on when the vehicle is started and works to correct unintentional skids.

“Seriously, there are people who don’t know what this technology is or what it can do for them. We have to go through these things to make people aware what features they have in their vehicles,” he said.

Part of the battle is in the showroom, when a new car is being collected. Mr Kelly said his personal experience was that the sales person took 20 minutes to set up the satellite navigation and entertainment systems, but no time explaining the safety features.

“The challenge for fleet managers is, how will you induct your drivers into the vehicle.

“From an occupational health and safety point of view, the vehicle is a workplace. You have a responsibility to actually induct people into their vehicles.”

The issue is common for tradespeople, especially apprentices and young workers.

“They drive their own light cars like Corollas and suddenly they’re given the keys to a two-tonne truck.

“How about some induction? How about the problem with the centre of gravity and the fact that a two-tonne truck can roll badly when it goes around corners?”

There are traps even for drivers who want to understand how the various safety technologies work in a vehicle.

“There are severe limitations with some of the safety technology,” Mr Kelly said, with manufacturers even warning about these limitations in the owner manuals.

Mr Kelly said he had tested several new cars in recent weeks and found significant differences in the approach to safety systems.

“We have a problem in one brand. Two out of the four vehicles I tested had their forward collision warnings set too close. Your potential to stop, even though you have electronic interventions, is limited. So you can travel without the warning going off and still not be able to avoid a crash.

“GPS (global positioning system) is a fantastic invention. The only problem is it was developed for naval use, out there in the middle of the ocean.

“You come into the city, where you have all sorts of reflections going on off buildings and you have some problems. Has anyone tried to use a GPS while walking around town? It doesn’t work. It can’t cope.”

Mr Kelly said one of his colleagues drives around ignoring the lane departure warnings from his dashboard.

“One of the things I noticed when I jumped into the car with him, was his lane departure warning kept going off.

“I asked whether the beeping drove you nuts.

“He said ‘What beeping?’ It was classic conditioning. He had got so used to it wasn’t effective anymore.

“Forward collision avoidance technology is fantastic. At low speed, if you are heading towards a crash, the car will stop. Terrific. We’ve tested it. It’s wonderful stuff but, at higher speeds, it has some problems.

“If you are facing a truck coming the other way and you are on a two-lane road and you want to do a right-hand turn, you don’t know if there is a car coming down the lane next to the truck towards you. When is this technology going to kick in, at what stage?

“You take a chance and go. Chances are the car coming the other way is doing 60km/h, and then it will be too late, so we can’t become complacent about these things.”

Mr Kelly said manufacturers are aware of the limitations of some of the systems and publish warnings in the driver’s manual.

“The problem with the distance warning function, the one that warns when you are traveling too close, doesn’t react to people or animals, oncoming vehicles or crossing traffic.

“The manufacturer says this in the manual. In other words, it doesn’t work all the time.

“Nice to know, isn’t it?”

Mr Kelly said there was a similar problem with the collision prevention system.

“If you are in heavy weather, interference from other radar sources – in other words all the other vehicles around you – means you’ve got a problem. If you have a bicycle sitting in front of you, there’s a good chance the system won’t pick that bicycle up because it’s too narrow.”

Mr Kelly stressed that he was not being critical of the new technology, just pointing out that it has limitations.

“The reality is that vehicles have never been safer.”

But he warned that all the latest systems cannot take into consideration everything that humans will do.

“A fully autonomous car’s going to have problems because we are going to fiddle with things, and if humans can fiddle with things they break them, and suddenly they don’t work anymore.

“The problem we have is humans will always look for a shortcut. As long as we have these semi-autonomous safety features that people can play with, they are going to cause problems.”

Mr Kelly said safety technology was now available to virtually all new-car buyers.

“There are 18 safety features in the latest Corolla. That’s a very affordable vehicle and it’s brilliant with all the safety features it offers.

“You don’t have to pay a lot of money to get safety features. They are now turning up in your vehicle when you haven’t even asked for it.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity, it’s an exciting time, but the human factor is going to slow this whole thing down.”

By Ian Porter

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