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Despite Glitches, Electronics Make Cars Safer

By NPR Online

February 12, 2010

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Future cars will have even more complex electronics and robotic-like control systems that monitor driving conditions and assist drivers, but experts say that will only make cars safer. University of Southern Indiana engineering professor Paul Kuban says a car's mechanical and electronic components are becoming increasingly intertwined. "It's gotten to the point where it's hard to separate the mechanical from the electrical designs because they interact with each other," says Kuban. However, he notes that even if a critical electronic component fails, a mechanical system is always available.

Stanford University computer scientist Sebastian Thrun believes that cars will drive themselves in the future. He notes that only a tiny fraction of accidents are caused by problems with the car, and most are the result of human error.

Cars with sophisticated electronics, such as anti-lock breaking systems, are just the latest step in the evolution of the automobile, says Carnegie Mellon University's William Whittaker. He says drivers have come to expect cars to come with new features that make it easier and safer to drive. "And at some point, it's actually unsafe to be driving at the higher speeds on modern highways without some of those features," Whittaker says.

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