Friday, 11 January 2013

It's Not Easy Being Bad

One of my favorite comedy shows on Canadian television is ‘Canada’s Worst Driver’. The premise is to take a driver who is accident prone, easily distracted or otherwise a menace on Canadian roads, put them through a battery of interesting challenges and see who comes out the loser - the one who just can’t learn to drive.

I’ve always wondered whether there was some way that I could fake being a menace and get on the show just to see what fun I could have. Turns out that it is really very hard to be a bad driver. You have to spend a fair amount of energy to create situations where you actually put yourself in harm’s way.

How do I know? I tried.

Mazda's SCBS

As part of my job, I had the opportunity to try out the new Smart City Braking System (SCBS) on the soon-to-be-introduced 2014 Mazda6. The system is designed to slam on the brakes if you approach a fairly substantial-sized object at speeds up to school zone limits or about 30kph with out paying attention. The trick is driving toward a wall at speed without touching the brakes or moving the steering wheel, either of which will prevent the SCBS from coming on and stopping the car for you. Hence you crash... I started out by driving toward a large garbage bin.

After a few false starts - and stopping well before the wall by climbing on the brakes myself - I decided to sit on my hands and coast toward a large cardboard box at speed. Imagine my surprise when the brakes slammed on and I came to a stop well before the box. After a few more runs, I felt confident enough to do it without flinching. I did manage to smoke the box a few times when driving at a more exuberant speed. Near the limit of 30kph, the car will stop, just not necessarily in time. But any damage to either car or object will be greatly reduced.

How does it work? The brakes part is easy: a tweak to the ABS system to make it come on by itself rather than with the brake pedal is programmed into the SCBS module. The tricky part is accomplished using laser sensors by the rear view mirror which sense closing speed. Then the SCBS module decides what to do based on brake, steering and vehicle speed and closing speed information.

The system is actually simpler than all the legalese interjected into the literature. The bottom line is that it won’t always prevent a crash, but it will reduce the amount of damage or injury.

I wouldn’t make a habit of relying on the SCBS to decide when to brake the car, but when you need it, it is nice to have it.

I now have way more respect for the drivers on ‘Canada’s Worst Driver’ because I found out how hard it is to be totally unconcerned about your safety and surroundings!! Maybe I’m not cut out for that show after all.

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