Can Automotive learn from Avionics Safety?

In my previous post on software safety standards, in response to some questions raised by Alex Wilson, I commented on what I believe are signs of convergence between avionics software standards. However, I didn’t address Alex’s question on whether there is any potential for convergence between avionics and automotive software standards.

Electronic systems have been present in automotive systems for many years now, but they have only really become visible to the driver and passengers with the advent of infotainment systems and driver-assist systems, such as Anti-Lock Braking System and airbag Supplementary Restraint Systems (wikipedia).

These systems could be viewed as passive systems, as they do not take control of the vehicle away from the driver, but there are now also advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) emerging on premium brand vehicles which can improve the driver’s situational awareness, these include Lane Departure Warning systems and Infa-Red (IR) night vision systems. There’s a very good
overview of these developments at DaimlerChrysler on Prof. Dariu
Gavrila’s website, including an overview and a technical paper PDF; and there’s also an good online article by Gaganjot Maur on the Automotive Design Line website, but neither of these articles really address software safety, which is what interests me.

The question I want to ask is this: Is there a point at which drivers become dependent on these driver assistance systems, and what would be the consequences of their failure (if we can use DO-178B avionics style comparisons for a moment)?

For example, I frequently use a satnav application (wikipedia) for traveling in my car, but only as a secondary guidance instrument (to use avionics terminology for comparison), i.e. it gives me directions and I decide whether they are sensible and choose to follow
them or to ignore them – so I have not followed it blindly into a river yet, unlike a driver in Germany (Yahoo News). However, imagine that I was driving across unfamiliar country lanes at night, and used the satnav’s 3D visual display to anticipate the next bend in the road, beyond the range of my headlights? At this point, I would be relying on the satnav display, because I would not have any independent frame of reference, so this would have consequences in terms of safety.

This is of course a rather contrived example, but it is representative of some of the ADAS systems which are being developed. So should we expect a similar level of rigour to the software development and safety certification for these automotive systems that we would if they were avionics systems?

Which software safety standard would apply? I am aware that ISO/IEC-61508 is being used for functional safety in some systems, but it doesn’t appear that it is being used consistently across the industry? Is it time for standardisation in automotive?