Does Car Safety Technology Really Make Us Safer Drivers?If you have purchased a new car over the past few years, you are likely aware of the incredible array of safety features available in current vehicles. Automotive safety has moved from passive protection (like airbags and safety belts) to more active protection (like lane-keeping assistance and semi-autonomous driving features). With all of these high-technology safety features, it stands to reason that driving a vehicle today should be safer than ever.

However, a recent study shows that the more comfortable a driver becomes with a vehicle’s automated systems, the more disengaged they become with the driving process. These findings are obviously troubling for everyone on the road.

What are advanced driver assistance systems?

When you hear talk about safety technologies, this usually refers to advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS. These include things like:

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Blind spot detection
  • Collision warnings
  • Forward and rear collision warnings
  • Lane departure warnings
  • Pedestrian detection systems

ADAS technologies use cameras and sensors to detect potential accidents or collisions and alert the driver.

About the safety technology study

In a study published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), researchers found that drivers “fidget with electronics and take both hands off the wheel more often as they develop trust in automated systems.” A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed similar results, finding that drivers “with experience using advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, were nearly twice as likely to engage in distracted driving while using the systems compared to when they were driving without the systems.”

Researchers at the IIHS and MIT studied the driving behavior of 20 volunteers over the span of a month, as they became familiar with the advanced driver assistance features of their vehicles – a Land Rover Range Rover Evoque equipped with adaptive cruise control (ACC), or a Volvo S90 with both ACC and Pilot Assist. They examined how often the drivers exhibited behaviors like taking both hands off the steering wheel, or taking their eyes off the road to perform activities like use their cell phone or adjust controls on the vehicle’s console.

IIHS Senior Research Scientist Ian Reagan, the lead author of the study, noted the results. “Drivers were more than twice as likely to show signs of disengagement after a month of using Pilot Assist compared with the beginning of the study,” he said. “Compared with driving manually, they were more than 12 times as likely to take both hands off the wheel after they’d gotten used to how the lane centering worked.”

Drivers of the Evoque were also more likely to engage with their cell phone while using ADAS technology, and their tendency to do so “increased substantially” as they grew more familiar with the system.

Reagan also had the following warning: “Crash investigators have identified driver disengagement as a major factor in every probe of fatal crashes involving partial automation we’ve seen. This study supports our call for more robust ways of ensuring the driver is looking at the road and ready to take the wheel when using Level Two systems…[rather than] getting lulled into a false sense of security over time.”

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