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The Computer Who Wore Headlights

Most cars made in 1980 or before didn’t use computers at all. There were a few exceptions—the 1976 Cadillac El Dorado had an engine control computer, and the 1957 fuel-injected Corvette and some 1950s fuel-injected Pontiacs had simple computers that regulated the fuel systems. But today, the average car has as many as 50 computers, and some high-end cars up to 100 with electronic sensors to match and millions of lines of code—more than a Boeing 787!

 While we drive, information is constantly being collected from temperature, pressure, voltage, acceleration at different angles and braking to yaw and roll, steering angle and much more. Onboard equipment, such as cameras, lasers, sensors, and radar, collectively known as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), which are designed to help us avoid collisions and migrate to more autonomous control, make our cars complex, rolling computers. I will say this about transportation innovation—while we think of these innovations as being mainly on higher-end cars, lower-income people benefit greatly from these advancements, too. Most lower-priced cars today come with, at the very least, anti-lock brake systems, which were a premium feature of cars 20 years ago. These systems are effectively part of the driverless car movement. Intelligent computers onboard vehicles now make decisions on behalf of faulty human intelligence that can save lives.

 The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized motor vehicle safety improvements as one of the 10 most notable public health achievements of the 20th century. Things like cruise control and automatic windows that begin as luxuries for Rolls-Royces and Cadillacs have ended up as everyday conveniences in more affordable vehicles that are enjoying a subsidy of sorts from the high end of the market. But today’s safety innovations have not migrated so quickly to benefit drivers of all incomes.

 A recent study comparing the association between motor vehicle owners’ socioeconomic status and safety features found that when ZIP codes were divided into groups based on median household income, their mean proportions of safety features also differed significantly according to income for availability of electronic stability control, side impact air bags, vehicle age, and crash test ratings. The conclusion: safer motor vehicles appear to be distributed along socioeconomic lines, with lower-income groups experiencing more risk. Part of the problem is lower-income people are typically buying older used vehicles so they don’t have access to technological advances until the safer vehicles make it to the used car market.

 On the Road Lending is addressing this inequality by providing affordable loans for reliable cars that are only one or two years old and include these important safety features. We also recognized that these automotive advancements could create job opportunities and meaningful work in automotive mechatronics that will benefit lower socioeconomic groups. Our sister company, On the Road Garage launched in Irving in 2020 as a unique tech-focused collision repair business to fill a skills gap and talent pipeline shortage. In addition to a commercial enterprise, On the Road Garage is rebuilding more than cars with a sophisticated paid internship program that trains people on collision repair, ADAS and other smart car technology, providing needed employment opportunities. There is a high earning opportunity for skilled technicians. The existing talent pool is aging out of this industry, and the pipeline of new talent is depleted due to a focus on four-year college and disinvestment in trades. These jobs provide the potential to earn a six-figure income without a four-year degree.

 Ultimately everything we’re doing at On the Road Companies is about getting people and communities on the road to success by bringing down costs across the transportation value chain and building prosperity for America’s workers. We’re empowering working Americans to have the opportunity to take the best jobs available to them with dignity and creating a prosperity movement that will propel our country and its citizens to achieve their dreams and live their best lives.