Honda to Sleeping, Distracted and Aggressive Drivers: Don’t Sweat It.


Honda’s new “We Know You” campaign includes a series of 16-second spots, presented as a medley of sorts in the ad above, which touts the safety features of the new Accord.

The Accord comes with a “drift warning” that alerts the driver when the car has entered another lane, a “forward collision warning” light that flashes and beeps when a sudden stop is required, and a “blind spot display” screen that, per Honda, facilitates quick lane changes. The gist of the ads is that attentive driving is no longer necessary — Honda has got your back.

The most egregious, and telling, commercial of the campaign has to be “Tired You,” which depicts a white collar type chugging coffee as he tries in vain to stay awake while driving on a flat, straight deserted road. When his Accord crosses the center line, the alarm sounds, the man jerks awake — and keeps driving.


“We know you,” says the voice actor, over a soothing piano track. “We know you have to rise early, and work late, with not enough sleep in between.”

The core message of this campaign is that it’s acceptable to drive without focusing on the task of driving. The voiceover may as well be: “Too sleepy or distracted to drive? Hey, everybody does it. But if you buy a new Honda, it’s slightly less likely that you’ll kill yourself, your family, or someone else’s loved ones.”

But will these features even bring a net safety gain? Honda has adopted the “forgiving” highways approach, and when you design to accommodate risky behavior, more will take risks. Said Streetsblog Network site Stop and Move, which brought the ads to our attention: “I wonder what the reaction would be if Honda had branded their feature as a way to drive drunk ‘safely.'”

  • Joe R.

    Actually, this problem has already been solved. We just need to put the alerters which are already used on railways in cars. With an alerter, you need to either move one of the controls or hit a button at predetermined, random intervals of ~30 seconds on average, or the emergency brake comes on. In the seconds before the emergency brake activates, you get an increasingly shrill tone. It’s not hard to apply the same technology to cars. If you don’t move the steering wheel, accelerator pedal or brake pedals for more than a few seconds an alarm kicks in. You can either move one of the controls, or hit a button to reset the alerter (on a long, straight highway you would be hitting the button repeatedly because you likely wouldn’t need to move the steering wheel or change the position of the accelerator). If you fail to do anything before the alarm times out, the car’s brakes come on and the car stops. You could also turn on the emergency flashers to warn the drivers behind. Moreover, as with trains you’ll have an interval of at least a few minutes before the system will allow you to move the vehicle again. This “brake penalty” gives an incentive to avoid letting the system stop the car in the first place. It also gives time for a drowsy driver to wake up before proceeding.

    Off topic, but any kind of cruise control on cars is an awful idea and should be banned by law. You’re making what is already a rout, boring task into one requiring even less attention. That’s not a good thing if the goal is to stay awake. Along those lines, higher speed limits on highways actually makes a lot of sense. It’s difficult to fall asleep when you’re doing 125 mph, but quite easy to do at 55 or 65. The idea should be to involve drivers more in the task of driving by making it more challenging, not less challenging.

  • JamesR

    Joe R, that’s an awfully good way to create a multi car pileup. I can just see a scenario in which the driver is on level ground on an interstate, cruise engaged, driving straight, and the system inadvertently kicks in and causes sudden braking. No thanks. I agree with you in theory on interstate speed limits, but American drivers do not have the lane discipline, attention span, and training for this – not to mention the poor substrate on US interstates as compared to the Autobahn, as dedicated high speed roads in Europe are built to a higher spec than our Interstate and certainly a higher spec than NYC area parkways.

    More electronic nannies are not the solution. This is an issue that has been largely solved in Europe. Make it FAR harder to obtain a license, and make it so vehicles are automatically at fault in any car on bike or car on ped collision.

    I hate these kind of commercials, because they make out the operation of a 3500lb projectile to be the same as using a dishwasher or oven, which couldn’t be further from the case. An involved driver that is aware of the potential consequences of their actions is a safer driver.

  • Joe R.

    @0725e26de8afcbf0a72ccf98de3fb783:disqus Of course the better solution is much harder licensing standards. I’ve mentioned many times that I’m in favor of standards high enough to make upwards of 75% of the population unable to ever get a license. Unfortunately, we seem to have decided that everyone with a pulse should also be able to drive, so that leaves “electronic nannies” for now. We could avoid the rear end collision scenario you mentioned by having the vehicle gradually come to a stop, and also having collision avoidance systems so vehicles behind will apply the brakes if they don’t change lanes or slow down.

    The real long term solution, at least here in the US where we feel everyone has the “right” to get around by personal automobile, is the robocar. Trying to make cars safer by putting in devices which compensate for driver error doesn’t really work. Anti-lock brakes for example just made drivers wait longer before applying the brake. The only solution is to take the driver out of the equation completely, although I’m sure that will generate a lot of bitching from people who claim they enjoy driving. I don’t buy that because if most people really did enjoy driving, they would actively try to be better drivers instead of texting or doing other things behind the wheel. The best way, actually probably the only way, to sell the concept of robocars will be the promise of reduced trip times by eliminating traffic jams,  coupled with higher speed cruising. Yes, the roads would need to be built to higher standards but one lane of robocars can replace 3 or 4 lanes of regular higher. The leftover highway real estate could be divided off and converted to bike highways. 

  • Adam Anon

    Joe R, strict licensing standards would be awesome, but that will never come to be because that will severely limit the numbers of car buying customers and the politicians can’t allow it since that would upset their masters in the auto and oil industries.

  • zach

    Joe R, rather than stricter licensing standards for the general population or robocars, how about stricter licensing standards for professional drivers, and then provide more opportunities for the rest of us to be passive passengers. Tired passengers on the bus/train are not really so much of an issue. Drunk passengers are annoying, but not likely to kill by accident.

    For the money we could invest in producing robocars, we could have a great bus+train network. A few stragglers will still need cars, but then again, a few stragglers are probably not going to get robocars, either.

  • dalit

    Zach you hit the nail on the head.  A car-centric system is expensive and unsustainable.  The whole robocar thing is a last-ditch effort by the kind of folks who really really don’t want to ride the bus with the rest of society…

  • Rob

    Sleepy at 75…. That’s just too damn fast.  People treat the max speed limit as the absolute minimum.  Frankly, driving that fast stresses me out more than losing 10 minutes of sleep.  Can we bring back 55mph and some respect for travel distances?

  • These warnings don’t have to make drivers less attentive though. 

    The warnings that Honda gives to lane drifters, etc should become increasingly loud and annoying the more times it engages during a trip… that should be a signal to drivers that they shouldn’t be driving.

    And I disagree with the comment below that things like antilock brakes make people reduce their stopping distance… In the 13 years that I’ve had my car, the ABS has engaged exactly once, and it freaked me out enough that I’ve never let it happen again.

  • Joe R.

    @aebd0a67c277d4f3b37e0e1e6cb155a9:disqus Of course public transit is a better answer than robocars or stricter licensing for the general population. And sadly, it’s a nonstarter in the US, at least until we have a political sea change in our thinking. Maybe that’ll happen in time, but until then we’re stuck with a situation where many Americans can’t see beyond the confines of their car as far as transportation goes. I’m just thinking here of realistic solutions which are somewhat likely to see the light of daylight. For now the prospects of either stricter licensing or more public transit are dim. Even robocars aren’t a slam dunk because of our lawsuit happy society, plus the fact that many will ostensibly say they love driving and won’t give it up. Still, I think a carrot/stick approach (i.e. give up driving but at the same time get where you’re going much faster) would make robocars accepted. Maybe before this happens someone will cost out a robocar system versus a comprehensive public transit system delivering similar benefits, and reach the conclusion that the public transit system will cost far less. That could be what finally gets the ball going as far as public transit goes. The fact is any road-based transportation system costs far more in terms of energy, labor, and infrastructure than rail. Robocars might work to a point in very rural areas, but I don’t envision them traveling 200+ mph like a world class high-speed rail system would. Moreover, safety with robocars will depend upon individual owners maintaining millions of vehicles, versus a transit agency maintaining some hundreds or thousands of vehicles. I know which one I’d prefer to trust my life to, and it isn’t a system where individual owners might opt out of a repair because they’re short money that month.

    The next few years should be interesting. I think the gas situation here on the East Coast, plus the ongoing congestion issues, are slowly but surely souring the general public on cars. When it reaches the point the car is seen more as a burden than as a gateway to freedom, people will ask for other solutions. Corporate America has a huge vested interest in maintaining the status quo, but the fact is you can’t force people to buy cars or drive if they don’t want to. No matter how sexy car commercials are, I think people are catching on to the reality of driving, which is that it is expensive, aggravating, and often no faster than taking a bicycle.

  • Joe R.

    @aebd0a67c277d4f3b37e0e1e6cb155a9:disqus Of course public transit is a better answer than robocars or stricter licensing for the general population. And sadly, it’s a nonstarter in the US, at least until we have a political sea change in our thinking. Maybe that’ll happen in time, but until then we’re stuck with a situation where many Americans can’t see beyond the confines of their car as far as transportation goes. I’m just thinking here of realistic solutions which are somewhat likely to see the light of daylight. For now the prospects of either stricter licensing or more public transit are dim. Even robocars aren’t a slam dunk because of our lawsuit happy society, plus the fact that many will ostensibly say they love driving and won’t give it up. Still, I think a carrot/stick approach (i.e. give up driving but at the same time get where you’re going much faster) would make robocars accepted. Maybe before this happens someone will cost out a robocar system versus a comprehensive public transit system delivering similar benefits, and reach the conclusion that the public transit system will cost far less. That could be what finally gets the ball going as far as public transit goes. The fact is any road-based transportation system costs far more in terms of energy, labor, and infrastructure than rail. Robocars might work to a point in very rural areas, but I don’t envision them traveling 200+ mph like a world class high-speed rail system would. Moreover, safety with robocars will depend upon individual owners maintaining millions of vehicles, versus a transit agency maintaining some hundreds or thousands of vehicles. I know which one I’d prefer to trust my life to, and it isn’t a system where individual owners might opt out of a repair because they’re short money that month.

    The next few years should be interesting. I think the gas situation here on the East Coast, plus the ongoing congestion issues, are slowly but surely souring the general public on cars. When it reaches the point the car is seen more as a burden than as a gateway to freedom, people will ask for other solutions. Corporate America has a huge vested interest in maintaining the status quo, but the fact is you can’t force people to buy cars or drive if they don’t want to. No matter how sexy car commercials are, I think people are catching on to the reality of driving, which is that it is expensive, aggravating, and often no faster than taking a bicycle.

  • Andy

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus Keep in mind that the majority of the US soil is not heavily populated, and people regularly commute 10-30 or more miles, often unhindered by traffic. While cycling has it’s benefits, it’s not an easy sell to people in rural and suburban areas like it is to me with a 3 mile urban commute. I think the congestion in cities will certainly need attention (aka fees) in the coming years, but the rural places won’t be likely to ever see these kinds of restrictions. They’ll just feel the affects of the price of gas when that starts to rise again.

    I’ll be curious to see how much these types of features cost. I have my doubts that these will be standard features in the next 0-5 years. An article claimed that Google’s self driving cars cost an additional $70,000 on top of the cost of the car. It will certainly get cheaper over time, but I’m not sure that all these features will be showing up on $15,000 “economy” cars soon.

  • Anonymous

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus I disagree with your basic premise that everything but robocars is a non-starter. Further, using yet more technology to solve what is at it’s heart a societal/behavioral problem always, always, always just pushes the resolution of the true societal/behavioral problem into the future and further complicates the solution. There is nothing inherently harder about having more strict licensing requirements and getting people to drive less than there is in creating an entire infrastructure of robotic cars. It’s only the bias of a car-centric society that thinks robocars are the solution to a problem that, at its root, is the inappropriate use of several ton vehicles for everyday usage, regardless of who is driving them.

  • Joe R.

    @jd_x:disqus What you say is logical and makes perfect sense to nearly everyone on this site, including myself. Sadly, what is often logical and sensible doesn’t make it into public policy if those vested in the status quo will lose. For what it’s worth, I do see some encouraging signs recently, most particularly the reelection of Obama. With someone in the White House who understands urban issues, we’re a lot more likely to get the things we want. We just need to be realistic. It’s taken over 50 years to get into the car-oriented mess we’re in. It’ll probably take as long to get completely out of it, but I think we could get three-quarters of the way there in the next decade with the right mindset. The current under 30 generation will eventually become a major voting block at the same time the baby boomers and the WWII generation start to die off. That will be the beginning of the end for the auto is king era.

  • Ian Turner

    @Robb: “In a Munich study, half a fleet of taxicabs was equipped with anti-lock brakes, while the other half had conventional brake systems. The crash rate was substantially the same for both types of cab, and Wilde concludes this was due to drivers of ABS-equipped cabs taking more risks, assuming that ABS would take care of them, while the non-ABS drivers drove more carefully since ABS would not be there to help in case of a dangerous situation. A similar study was carried out in Oslo, with similar results.” (From Wikipedia article on ABS)

    Risk Compensation is a real thing. It’s one of the major downsides to using bicycle helmets.

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