Technological advancements, such as antilock brakes and stability controls, have made driving in America safer than it has ever been as traffic fatalities have plunged to historic lows. But as auto manufacturers imagine a future of self-driving and always-connected cars, they'll need to worry about something else -- electronic malfunctions and cyberattacks, according to a report released by the Transportation Research Board.
Between 2009 and 2010,
"You can find something that's broken or stuck, but like with a PC, you can have some vexing things happen," says
"Automobiles today are literally 'computers on wheels,'" says the report, released last week. And, like computers, car electronics don't always work like they're supposed to. As auto computers get more complex -- current auto software uses more than a million lines of code -- the
In the coming years, onboard computers will become even more important, and, so far, auto computers have remained remarkably reliable.
"The future does hold a lot more electronics, whether it's for comfort and convenience, but also for safety," Wilkie says. "I think a large measure of the improvements in safety and reductions in highway deaths are probably attributable to systems like antilock brakes."
A computer crash isn't the only thing to worry about, according to the TRB. Like a computer, a car's internal software can be infected with a virus or hacked. Last year, researchers at the
According to the report, "automotive manufacturers have designed their networks without giving sufficient attention to such cybersecurity vulnerabilities because automobiles have not faced adversarial pressures." As auto manufacturers explore car-to-car and car-to-Internet connections, they need to find a way to "harden the vehicles against such kinds of attacks," Wilkie says.
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