As Cars Go Online, We Need A 6th Star For Software Safety Rankings

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Zohar Fox Zohar Fox , Contributor

As the role of software and internal computer systems becomes more and more prominent in our automobiles – gaining new cars the moniker “software on wheels” – it should come as no surprise that car recalls triggered by software glitches are also growing at a rapid pace –  with analysts claiming 15% of all car recalls were to repair software-related problems.

New cars can carry up to 150 million lines of code (more than modern fighter jets) and the role of software is only increasing with each new model that’s rolled out. But every 1,000 lines of code in a car contains an average of 15-50 errors, and standard QA testing misses about 15% of those errors. That still leaves a significant number of software glitches in each and every new vehicle on the road – with the potential to impact critical systems from brakes to airbags to advanced safety features.  

An in-car artificial intelligence (AI) system. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Regulators and even consumers and consumer advocacy groups have much to do to fill these critical gaps. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, long considered a gold standard for auto safety rankings, already has a 5-star safety rating which helps “consumers make smart decisions about safety when purchasing a vehicle.” Similar safety ratings from private third-party analysts have also long been regarded as a prime tool for evaluating cars’ quality, reliability, and performance. These rankings and tools are important for helping car buyers make smart decisions regarding the safety levels of vehicles they’re purchasing, clearly delineating the features and safety tests that generate the safety of the vehicle.

But now that software plays such a key role in driving our vehicles, software safety should also serve as a core component of these and other ranking systems. If software safety was treated as a “6th star,” dedication to software reliability would only grow.

The good news is that these established rating systems with their time-tested practices should make the adoption of this new “software star” much smoother. Moreover, by deploying new technologies and replicating successes from past initiatives designed to promote cars’ mechanical and physical safety, manufacturers can help bring cars’ software reliability in line as well.

The Missing Star

When consumers shop for a car, they typically prize a vehicle’s safety and reliability, and the slew of new safety features launched by OEMs reflect those priorities. From active blind spot detection to traffic sign recognition, advanced driver assist systems are more in demand than ever. Such investments usually pay off for automakers, as safety-minded drivers are often willing to pay more for a new car from a company known for its safety features.

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