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Is the Latest Car Safety Technology Putting Drivers in Danger?

It’s 2020, a fifth of the way into the 21st Century, so Americans rightly expect some futuristic automation in their cars. If the flying cars that science fiction writers dreamed up years ago aren’t going to happen, at least we can have technology that automates certain tasks to make driving safer, right?

More new cars are leaving the factory with some crash avoidance features such as automated braking, adaptive cruise control and assisted steering to prevent lane departures. But those new safety features are no reason for drivers to get complacent while behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, a recent study says that advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) like adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning systems make drivers nearly twice as likely to become complacent and engage in distracted driving, a leading cause of car accidents in New York and nationwide.

Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety say that as drivers get used to relying on ADAS technologies, they disengage from the task of driving and are likely to focus on secondary, non-driving related tasks. If the driver is distracted by second tasks, he or she will not be prepared to intervene quickly to avoid hazardous traffic situations if needed. A lack of focus on the road puts drivers at greater risk of crashing.

Adaptive cruise control maintains a safe distance between vehicles on the highway by automatically accelerating or slowing down without the driver’s help. Lane-keeping assist technology helps drivers stay in their lane by gently tugging the wheel when the car starts to drift. Both systems still require the driver to remain alert and keep their hands on the wheel.

“(W)ere the systems to fail, especially when the driver’s attention is focused elsewhere, it is questionable whether the driver would have the ability to recover control of the vehicle in time to prevent a crash,” the study’s authors write.

Distracted Driving Grows from Reliance on Car Safety Technology

Video from within the cars of drivers familiar with their vehicles’ ADAS showed the drivers engaged in distracted driving behaviors that included texting or adjusting the radio, a news release from the AAA Foundation says. Meanwhile, drivers with less experience using the technologies were more likely to remain attentive and engaged while using the systems.

“This new research suggests that as drivers gain more experience using ADAS technology, they could develop complacency while behind the wheel,” Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, says in the news release.

Drivers who were using adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist were 50% more likely to engage in some distracting secondary task and 80% were more likely to engage in visual and/or manual secondary tasks. They also spent less time with their eyes on driving-related tasks and took more frequent and longer glances away from the road.

Researchers said cell phone-related tasks were the most frequent secondary task drivers engaged in when ADAS systems were activated.

“Research in other industries shows that pilots and nuclear technicians demonstrate similar patterns of over-reliance on automated systems,” AAA says. “These behaviors can eventually lead to distraction.”

The study’s authors say auto manufacturers and others need to do a better job of educating consumers about the extent of driver assistance capabilities.

“Remember, technology fails us daily while at work and at home. So, don’t get caught driving distracted when being focused on the road can save your life,” Dr. William Van Tassel, AAA manager of driver training programs, says in the news release.

Does Driver Assistance Technology Offer False Hopes?

Bill Horrey, leader of the AAA Foundation’s Traffic Research Group and project manager on the study, told USA Today that the issue with ADAS is that these systems are not capable of making sophisticated driving decisions on the road.

Researchers surveyed a wide range of vehicles, including the Tesla Model S, Acura MDX, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Jeep Cherokee and Hyundai Sonata.

The National Highway Safety Administration has adopted definitions of different levels of automation. The levels range from 0, which involves no automation, to 5, which is full driving automation.

A  report by the Motley Fool says most of the more advanced vehicles with autonomous driving system (ADS) features that have been released to the public rate level 2 or 3 on a scale for which 5 represents full automation. The report says that some big hurdles still must be overcome before fully automated cars are available to consumers.

As for the safety of driverless vehicles, the article notes that self-driving cars do not get drunk, drowsy or distracted and that some reports and experts suggest that ADS vehicles are already safer than human-operated vehicles. In three known driver deaths in ADS vehicles under test conditions, each time the human pilot was judged to have not been paying attention.

In other words, cars still need an alert human driver at the wheel.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by a distracted driver in the New York City area, the experienced attorneys at the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP can help you pursue full compensation from the at-fault driver. Long Island accident attorneys Richard Jaffe and Stephen Cohen and our skilled associates have 100 years of combined legal experience in motor vehicle accident litigation.

Call the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe or contact us online now. Our Long Island injury lawyers offer a free case review.

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