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Drivers take risks with safety technology

The chances are many drivers don’t know much about how their car works. Newer cars use advanced driver assistance systems, such as automatic emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control (ACC) and others. Unfortunately, drivers don’t understand what safety technology can and can’t do. They could risk their safety by relying too much on it.

Misunderstanding of driver assistance

In Australia, AEB, ACC and lane keeping assist (LKA) are becoming optional or standard on many vehicles. Other assistance types are emerging, such as lane departure warning (LDW), blind spot monitoring (BSM) and forward collision warning (FCW).

There are two main problems with using driver assistance technologies. First, they may not actually do what drivers expect. Second, they may encourage drivers to take their attention away from driving.

The US AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently reported on owner attitudes to driving assistance technologies. It expressed concern about what this means for road safety. The AAA found:

  • 66% of vehicle owners trust assistance technology
  • 75% find the technology useful
  • 70% would recommend it.

Even so, many drivers had no idea what these technologies do and were taking unnecessary risks with them.

Some misconceptions from the study

Only half the respondents were offered training from salespeople in technologies available in their new vehicle. Lack of training and ignorance led to these types of misconceptions:

Blind spot monitoring – 80% thought the system could detect fast-travelling vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. 25% felt comfortable relying solely on the system and did not use visual checks or look over their shoulder.

Automatic emergency braking – 17% did not know whether their vehicle even had it.

Forward collision warning – 40% thought it would apply the brakes, like AEB, rather than just send a warning signal. 25% felt comfortable doing other things while driving.

Are they really lifesaving?

According to the study, these assistance systems have the potential to prevent crashes, injuries and deaths. For example, the three listed above plus lane keeping assist, could prevent 2.75 million crashes, 1.13 million injuries and 9,500 deaths in the US.

In NSW, Centre of Road Safety collects annual data on how many of each crash type cause injuries and deaths each year. For example, in 2017:

  • 686 Head on
  • 5,703 Off path/Out of control/Lane change
  • 4,196 Rear end
  • 10,585 Total injuries or deaths from just these types of crash.

It seems optimistic to suggest driver assistance systems will prevent all these types of crashes. Especially when these projections don’t consider drivers who could crash and be injured or die because of too much trust in, or ignorance of, these same systems.

Learn about them

Perhaps carmakers have an ethical responsibility to educate salespeople and customers in how to safely use these new systems. After all, assistance technologies are still too new to be taught in drivers lessons or tested in driving exams.

The best way to learn about driver assistance systems is through an in-vehicle demonstration and a test drive. After that, it is up to drivers to read the owner’s manual for more information.

No doubt there will be continued research into how well these systems work. Meanwhile, insurers may be unwilling to foot the bill for crashes that occur from misunderstanding or ignorance of safety technologies.

It is in everybody’s interest to learn to use safety systems safely. Particularly when autonomous vehicles will have to rely completely on them.

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