March 8, 2018

By Eugene Herbert

Driver-assist tech can increase distraction

Technology is good – Right?

Of course, particularly if it comes to technology that improves vehicle safety and therefore contributes to reduced crashes and even fatalities!  What does research tell us?

The cars may be great but those in control seem to go backwards when it comes to how they engage with the technology. Drivers with access to semi-autonomous features such as automatic braking or a lane-keeping system say that they’re significantly more distracted while driving than drivers without the technology, according to a new study.

In the survey, 64% of drivers with semi-autonomous or in-car technology say they have been occasionally or frequently distracted. Meanwhile, 55% of drivers in cars without the features reported distraction. Even with these results, the high-tech car features make drivers feel safer, the report concludes.

The report from Esurance, ‘Driving to Distraction,’ looks at overall distracted driving trends. It also assesses the impact of modern car technology on distracted driving patterns. Consumers rather than commercial drivers participated in the survey.

Nearly half (46%) of car drivers surveyed with semi-autonomous tech believe the features help enhance their on-road behaviour. Another 10% believe it hinders their driving.

The survey also found that one out of four drivers who sought out tech in their new vehicles have since deactivated at least one feature.

Overall, drivers with in-car tech tend to be slightly more distracted than those without it. As much as 29% admit the warning sounds themselves (when the car drifts into another lane, for example) can be distracting.

Survey respondents also noted that high-tech features bring with them a plethora of options and buttons. This makes it tempting for drivers to take hands off the wheel and eyes and minds off the road.

The report concludes that features like lane-centring and emergency braking ultimately risk giving drivers a false sense of confidence to look away from the road. What’s more, over-reliance on a feature like obstacle detection — for example, assuming your car will steer around traffic barrels in a construction zone — could end in disaster.

“The idea consumers might rely too much upon or even abuse these technologies is concerning,” writes Brandon Schoettle. He is the project manager at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute in the survey report. “We’re at a point where you can take your hands and feet off the controls for the most advanced systems. Not yet, however, are we at the point where you can turn your brain off.”

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