Dear Ms. Smartphone: Friends of mine have a private airplane and they impress on me the importance of the ‘black box’ that can record errors or mechanical failures. I don’t have an airplane, but curious if cars need their own version of a black box. This got me thinking I would install a web camera in my own car, a Toyota Prius. It’s not a black box but it could notify me if anything went wrong. Do you think that a web camera in the car is a good idea? Gerard, Berkeley
Dear Gerard: My first reaction is that pedestrians and bikers are going to demand their own versions of a black box and mount webcams on their forehead. When they travel they are at far greater risk than drivers! Then we all be in court disputing one another rather than enjoying the open road.
But, on second thought, the web camera in a car can be a good idea, even if you are not at risk of an accident. Today police vehicles, commercial vehicles, and fleets use them because they help monitor conditions in the field. It’s less commonly known that some high-end vehicles like the Tesla Y also have these cameras installed. One of my family members was surprised, but then delighted to discover that his vehicle had a webcam with loop recording. Police alerted him to this hidden camera after the front-end of his vehicle was damaged by flying debris. The webcam helped identify the culprit, a driver in a rogue pick up truck. About 11 to 12 percent of auto accidents in the US involve hit and run drivers (or debris) and the webcam can help you with the identities.
Front, Rear, & Social:
Hopefully you will not be in that situation and can use your webcam for more amusing purposes. One of them would be to post eclectic and novel footage to Instagram or Reddit. A site on Instagram social media that always brings a smile is called @Bad Prius Drivers. Just a note of caution here before you use the web cam for social media. Most people make an attribution error and assume that they are good drivers but other people behind the wheel are not as capable. It’s best to install a camera that does dual-purpose, both front and rear -end views. Rear end accidents are the most frequently occurring type of collision, accounting for about 29 percent of all crashes and resulting in a substantial number of injuries and fatalities each year. Not something you learn about on the Instagram site.
If your idea of entertainment is more data minded you can also use the webcam to good purpose and learn about the wild life. In a transportation paper that sampled 96 moose-vehicle collisions, researchers analyzed the webcam footage in a novel way. They measured the effects of road conditions, weather, moose behavior and driver response. They developed a useful statistical model and have some helpful conclusions should you encounter a a near-miss with a moose (hint: vehicle slows).
Perhaps you will not encounter a moose, but be prepared to drive in a car with a webcam relatively soon. As vehicles get increasingly automated and closer to autonomous, webcams are going to become as essential as black boxes are to airplanes. Cameras enable these cars to interpret road conditions and send them to a computer for processing. These cameras, unlike the ones that you install in your car today, will send data back and forth and completely track your journey. Today’s webcam is resident within your vehicle and presumably has an on -and- off switch for privacy.