The Tech Advantage with  E.K Foli: has car tech been a gift or a curse?


Meandering through the unfamiliar streets of Abeka Lapaz, it’s 7:25pm and I am feeling a little fatigued. As I consider driving back to Labone for one last meeting, it suddenly dawns on me that I have one important call to return. Widely considered a notoriously poor multitasker by my closest friends, I make it a point to focus one hundred percent on whatever activity I have before me. I learnt early in my career that this was the only way for me to have truly productive days.

Scanning through my list of missed calls, I find the number I am looking for. I think about dialing, but hesitate knowing that making a call at this time might interfere with my internet connection, thus interrupting the GPS guide kind enough to help me find my way to more familiar terrain.

I decided to wait until I got to the Tetteh Quarshie interchange to make the call. It should be easy enough to find my way to Labone with no technological assistance from there. Eventually, I returned the call. Five minutes and fifty three seconds later, the call was over. I did not connect my phone to the car via bluetooth. I had made this decision earlier in the day since what I was driving was not my primary car and I did not want the inconvenience of having my calls automatically connect whenever the car was started in my vicinity.

I arrive at a traffic light and look to my left to see the majestic structure of SilverStar Towers. Immediately, I begin to fantasize about all the technologically advanced cars that they must have in their showroom. I wondered how long it would take to have a fully autonomous vehicle on display in Ghana? Almost immediately, another thought crossed my mind. Has the advancement in technology made automobiles safer or more dangerous? The light turns green, and I drive off. However, this thought would preoccupy me all the way to Labone and would inevitably inspire today’s article.

Dual-Edged Sword

The landscape of the automotive industry has been reshaped by rapid technological advancements presents a dual-edged sword in terms of safety. On one hand, innovative technologies like advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous capabilities offer the potential to significantly reduce accidents and enhance road safety. Features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and automatic emergency braking empower vehicles to swiftly respond to potential dangers.

On the other hand, the increasing integration of complex technologies can introduce new challenges, including cybersecurity vulnerabilities and driver complacency due to overreliance on automation. The expectation is that the shift towards smarter, more intuitive cars should empower drivers with an unprecedented level of safety in addition to setting the stage for a future where accidents become increasingly rare, and yet this may not always be the case.


The trajectory of car technology has evolved dramatically over the decades, with each era ushering in distinct advancements that have reshaped the automotive landscape. The mid-20th century saw the introduction of fundamental safety features such as seat belts and padded dashboards, laying the groundwork for improved passenger protection.

Seat belts, initially introduced in 1959 by Volvo, were a breakthrough in passenger protection. These simple restraints aimed to prevent ejection from the vehicle during collisions, a prevalent danger in the era’s less regulated roadways.

Padded dashboards, which gained traction around the same time, aimed to mitigate the risk of impact-related injuries by cushioning the area in front of the passengers. While these safety measures might appear rudimentary by today’s standards, they represented a pivotal departure from the barebones approach to vehicle safety, marking the industry’s initial steps towards acknowledging the need for measures to safeguard occupants from the inherent dangers of the road.

As the years progressed, the advent of anti-lock braking systems (ABS) in the 1970s brought enhanced control during emergency braking situations.

As various automobile manufacturers and researchers began exploring ways to adapt ABS for cars, the aim was to prevent skidding and maintain steering control during hard braking.

One of the earliest ABS systems was developed by Bosch, a German engineering company, in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz. In 1978, Bosch introduced the first modern electronic ABS as an option in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

This early ABS used a computer to monitor individual wheel speeds and modulated brake pressure to each wheel to prevent skidding.

The late 20th century witnessed the incorporation of airbags and traction control systems, further bolstering safety measures. The turn of the 21st century marked a pivotal shift with the emergence of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), including adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems, which aimed to assist drivers in avoiding potential collisions.

Presently, we find ourselves at the cusp of a new era, defined by self-driving capabilities and vehicle-to-vehicle communication thus paving the way for a future where automation and connectivity hold the potential to redefine the concept of driving safety altogether.

Rise of Complexity

As cars have evolved into highly technologically advanced machines, they have brought remarkable improvements in safety, performance, and convenience. However, this increased complexity has also introduced potential points of failure and elevated maintenance costs, creating a new set of challenges for both manufacturers and consumers.

The integration of numerous electronic components, sensors, and interconnected systems has led to a higher degree of interdependence within vehicles. While these systems can work seamlessly under ideal conditions, any malfunction or disruption can result in a cascade of issues affecting multiple aspects of a vehicle’s functionality  or safety.

Diagnosing and repairing such complex problems requires specialized knowledge, diagnostic tools, and often involves the assistance of trained professionals, all of which contribute to higher repair costs. It is all too common to see vehicles operating with the “check engine light” on in our parts of the world. What this often means for vehicular safety is often unclear.

Moreover, as vehicles rely more on software and electronic controls, they become susceptible to software glitches, bugs, and vulnerabilities. These issues can lead to unexpected malfunctions, from infotainment system failures to safety-critical features not working as intended. Ensuring the security and stability of these systems becomes paramount, requiring constant updates and patches, which can further contribute to maintenance complexities.

A rise in complexity suggests a rise in possible failure points, which one might argue could make poorly-maintained vehicles a danger on the roads.

Driver Distraction

The integration of entertainment systems, touchscreens, and various gadgets in modern cars, while offering convenience and sophistication, has also raised concerns about driver distraction and its impact on safety. As vehicles become more like mobile technology hubs, with features ranging from infotainment displays to voice commands and smartphone connectivity, the potential for driver attention to be diverted from the road becomes a significant issue.

The allure of interactive touchscreens and entertainment systems can draw a driver’s eyes and focus away from the primary task of driving. Even a momentary glance at a touchscreen to change a song, adjust settings, or navigate menus can take attention away from the road ahead, increasing the risk of accidents. The cognitive load required to interact with complex interfaces can further divert mental resources from the driving task, leading to delayed reactions and decreased situational awareness.

Voice-activated commands and hands-free features, while designed to mitigate distraction, are not immune to the problem. Engaging in conversations with voice assistants or making phone calls can still shift a driver’s cognitive focus away from the immediate driving environment, leading to potentially hazardous situations.

Moreover, the integration of smartphone apps and navigation systems can encourage drivers to interact with their devices while driving, even if it’s not safe to do so. Text messages, notifications, and app alerts can tempt drivers to take their eyes off the road, contributing to the rising problem of distracted driving.

Studies have shown that interacting with in-car technology, especially touchscreens, can result in significantly longer periods of distraction compared to other tasks like adjusting the radio or climate controls. This increased distraction can lead to delayed reactions to critical situations, reduced ability to anticipate potential hazards, and an overall decrease in driving performance.

To address these concerns, designing user interfaces that are intuitive, easy to use, and require minimal attention from the driver is crucial. Implementing technology that can detect when a vehicle is in motion and limiting certain functions while driving can also help mitigate distractions. Additionally, driver education and awareness campaigns play a role in emphasizing the dangers of distracted driving caused by in-car gadgets.

Automation and Complacency

Semi-autonomous systems, such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance, can lull drivers into a false sense of security. These systems are designed to assist with certain driving tasks, but they still require the driver to remain engaged and ready to take control at a moment’s notice. The danger arises when drivers become overly reliant on these features, assuming that the technology will handle all aspects of driving. This can lead to a phenomenon known as “automation complacency,” where drivers become disengaged and fail to monitor the road adequately.

Fully autonomous driving technology poses similar challenges. While the ultimate goal is to create vehicles capable of safe, self-driving operation, the transition phase involves human oversight. Drivers may be required to intervene in complex situations that the autonomous system cannot handle. The prolonged periods of minimal driving activity in autonomous vehicles can lead to a lack of situational awareness and reduced ability to respond quickly when the technology requests human intervention.

In both cases, the potential for reduced alertness and complacency can result from a combination of factors: the monotony of monitoring a system that typically works well, the allure of distractions due to perceived “free” time, and the gradual erosion of driving skills due to underutilization. As drivers become less engaged, they might not notice potential hazards, fail to respond to sudden changes in road conditions, or struggle to regain control effectively if the need arises.

To mitigate these risks, it’s essential for manufacturers to prioritize proper driver education and establish clear guidelines for the use of these technologies. Developing user interfaces that clearly communicate the limitations of the systems and actively encourage driver engagement is crucial. Regularly updating and refining the technology to handle a wider range of driving scenarios can also help ensure that drivers are not left in situations where they must suddenly take control without proper preparation.

Sages’ Perspective

Michael Eisner’s quote “There’s no good idea that cannot be improved on.”, could easily express my view on technological advancements in the automobile industry. Whilst they go a long way in improving our lives, I believe a special focus must always be placed on new technology to ensure that improvements are made as soon as possible to avoid the inevitable side effects of applying the relevant technology.

The author, Elorm K. Foli, is a software developer and technology & business development consultant with over 19 years of experience in the industry. He specializes in helping small and medium-sized businesses leverage technology to drive rapid revenue growth and maximize market share.

[email protected] +233 507409529

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