Are our cars getting too smart to be safe?

A while ago I wrote about my Honda CR-V watching me.

Last night, I got quite frightened when my CR-V decided to slam on the brakes while I was crossing railroad tracks in Seattle. Fortunately the car behind me didn’t hit me. I was able to continue on my journey.

The next morning I wanted to see if this was a general problem. I poked around on Google and found a series of articles on random braking and phantom braking:

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating popular Honda Accord sedans and CR-V SUVs for a possible glitch that, according to numerous driver complaints, sometimes causes the cars to randomly slam on the brakes without the driver touching the brake pedal.

“The vehicles are equipped with Automatic Emergency Braking systems that are supposed to automatically apply the brakes if the driver fails to do it themselves in certain situations, such as a vehicle stopping in front of them or a pedestrian in the vehicle’s path. The systems are primarily designed to prevent, or at least reduce the severity of, rear end collisions. The vehicles being investigated are 2018 and 2019 model year Accords and 2017 to 2019 CR-Vs. There are a total of about 1.7 million of these vehicles currently on the road in US, according to NHTSA.

“NHTSA has received 278 complaints of sudden braking for no reason in Accords and CR-Vs. Six of these complaints allegedly involved collisions, some resulting in minor injury, according to NHTSA documents. Several people who submitted complaints to NHTSA said the problem occurred in their vehicles multiple times.”

Since this was a big deal safety issue for me, I went to the NHTSA website to file a report about phantom braking. I then called our dealer and asked to have our Honda CR-V checked out. I assumed that they could dump the log files in the car and see the phantom braking event.

Nope. Not so much.

After several hours of many different kinds of tests and checking several different databases, the very senior mechanic assured me there was no problem. I then explained the problem to him directly (without intermediaries). He laughed and shared “oh, now that you describe that you were driving in snow and ice, your radar unit is just dirty.”

We went and looked at the car and sure enough the radar unit was dirty.

He then shared those dreaded words “it is in the owners manual. You should regularly clean off your radar unit.” But I didn’t even know where the radar unit was located. And I sure never read the owners manual.

The mechanic’s explanation is when the radar unit gets dirty the radar waves are scattered and so the unit can detect an object that isn’t really there.

Oh great, so now every 50 miles in winter weather I’ve got to get out and clean my radar unit.

I don’t mind when my car is trying to be helpful by letting me know I need to stop for a cup of coffee. But I really mind when the car slams on the brakes without warning because it “phantomly” thinks there is an object in front of me.

I was also perplexed that none of the car’s log files captured that the brakes were automatically slammed on. When I got home I decided to explore what is going on with computer logging of errors on my “intelligent” car. I stumbled into a whole new world of new concepts that ranged from Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) to diagnostic trouble codes (DTC) to event data recorder (EDR) to journey data recorders.

As it turns out the EDRs only record a rolling 15-20 seconds of information. This information is only saved if there is a collision. Insurance companies tap into this data with something called telematics to save the EDR data to determine what kind of driver you are. The telematics device ties into your Onboard Diagnostics port.

However, as a consumer I don’t have access to the devices OR the processing software to make sense of the continuing stream of data from my “intelligent” car.

I was disappointed to learn that when the brakes were automatically applied no DTC was recorded so the Honda mechanics could not verify my problem in real life.

What a fascinating rabbit hole for learning about my car. But now I can’t trust my intelligent car and I have a new found fear that wasn’t there before in my ignorance of my car’s intelligence.

“But you should have read the owners manual to know about cleaning off the radar unit?” the mechanic said.

As I described this problem and the fix to my wife, she asked “how did you know what to search for to find something called “phantom braking”?” That is another story.

Life is complicated enough, but now I have to daily maintain something I am not sure I want.

This entry was posted in Big Data, Innovation, User Experience. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s