Many industry professionals are working toward the development of a fully autonomous vehicle soon. Before this becomes a reality, however, programmers, designers and manufacturers must take small steps to link a self-driving vehicle’s safety features to those cars and trucks that are readily available to consumers. Every new iteration seems to include a series of both safety features and futuristic hands-free comfort features. Unfortunately, many of these features might ultimately have a negative impact on the driver’s safety on the road.
Safety features, generally grouped together as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), are designed to keep drivers alert and aware of possible hazards on the road. In many cases, the vehicle can react as soon as the danger is detected – much faster than the driver could. ADAS can include adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, collision detection, blind spot warnings and pedestrian avoidance.
Researchers team up to test the ADAS systems
In a collaborative study, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute caution drivers that the safety features could have a negative, if subconscious, effect.
Over a study period lasting four weeks, researchers examined two groups of drivers in vehicles equipped with ADAS. One group owned the vehicle and had more experience with the safety features. The drivers in the other group were loaned a vehicle with the same features – thus they were new to the technology.
The research found that the drivers who had more familiarity with the ADAS features were more likely to engage in distracted driving activities such as personal grooming, reading, eating, texting and participating in phone conversations. The drivers with less experience using the technology were more likely to remain attentive even with the ADAS systems engaged.
The researchers theorized that drivers placed an over-reliance on the safety features, believing that the vehicle would keep them safe. In this mindset, they were more likely to allow themselves to be distracted from the act of driving, feeling that the car itself would protect them from danger. Drivers always need to be aware that ADAS features exist to assist drivers rather than drive the car. Eventually, we will have autonomous vehicles, but, for now, drivers must remain fully in control of the vehicle no matter how many safety features are included.