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Ford announced that they are including a new safety feature on the 2017 Ford Fusion. It’s called “Return to Park” and as the names implies, it will put the car in Park if you forget. See video below. The primary benefit of this is to prevent rollaways. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study published in August, 360 people were killed in accidents involving unattended vehicles with no driver control between 2012 and 2014. In an average year, about 2,000 people are injured in similar incidents.

So, how does this work? If the car detects the driver’s intent to exit the car, it will automatically shift the transmission into Park. You might ask, “How does the car detect my intent?” Here’s how:

  • You turn the vehicle off
  • You open the driver’s door with your safety belt unlatched and the vehicle is stationary
  • Your safety belt is unlatched with the driver’s door open and the vehicle is stationary

This and other recent electronic safety innovations are a mixed blessing. On one hand, anything that makes cars safer is a good thing. On the other, each of these “improvements” takes the actual operation of the car out of our hands (in some cases, literally), and causes us to be worse in the actual skill of driving. They give, potentially, a false sense of security. Consider, for example, rear cameras, which are mandated on all cars and light trucks by May, 2018. There is a strong inclination to depend on what you see on the screen as you back up, without the “old” way of actually looking around. The camera is not designed to work alone; it is a supplement to the mirrors and your actual eyes. Depending on it as the sole source of what’s going on around the car is dangerous and could, ironically, increase injuries.

The point is that these innovations are great, as long as they are used to supplement the existing features the car has and the driving skills we have.

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