Do New Car Technologies Distract Drivers?

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The list of devices that assist drivers with the task of identifying the hazards surrounding their vehicle is growing. It’s to the point now that a driver moving from a 10-year-old vehicle to a modern marvel could have a steep learning curve on the way to mastering the new electronics. This raises questions about where the saturation point is for a driver. These aids may also provide the driver with false comfort, implying safe conditions without providing all the information.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)

First-line car safety was passive restraints and non-interactive systems. Think seat belts and air bags. Crumple zones are another safety feature that a driver never has to consider. These technologies protect the driver from the effects of a collision. ADAS protect the driver by helping to avoid collision or other issue to start with.

Adaptive cruise control can sense the speed of cars nearby and adjust speed accordingly. Pre-collision braking may also be integrated into ACC, slowing a vehicle automatically if dangerous conditions are sensed. These, too, are passive in terms of driver action on the front end. The driver needs only react to the conditions the systems change, since they’ve already removed the danger.

Alerts and Alarms

car backup camera

Where problems may occur are with information technologies, those that provide some signal to the driver, but which cannot take action on their own. Blind spot detectors and backup cameras are two such devices.

Owner’s manuals for contemporary cars can top 500 pages. For many, the manual and its pouch get placed in the glove box and are likely in better condition than the rest of the vehicle at resale, save for the five-year layer of dust. So it’s safe to say that full understanding of some systems may not happen until curiosity kicks in.

Without full knowledge, a driver may depend solely on the backup camera to leave the garage when the camera has neither a full view or the flexibility of a human eye. Similarly, when the cute chirp of the blind spot detector goes off for the 100th time without incident, the driver becomes desensitized unless he knows to check for hidden vehicles every time it sounds.

Risk Compensation

A psychological factor weighs into the debate as well, that of risk compensation. Briefly, when drivers are aware there is a safety technology helping to protect them, a false sense of safety may permit them to drive with more abandon. Wearing seatbelts, for example, has been connected with driving faster.

Distracted Driving

There is much focus currently on smart phone use by drivers, with new laws and standards in Ontario. However, criticism has been leveled at perfectly legal built-in hands-free systems, which can be inaccurate and actually more distracting than hand-held counterparts, which already substantially elevate accident risk.

It’s hard to say where the balance will land with automated safety and driver distraction. This is hardly a new discussion. Driver distraction was a hot topic in 1922. That was the year car radios were introduced.

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