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Study: Car ‘safety’ systems can lead to distracted driving

On Behalf of | Feb 17, 2021 | Auto Accidents |

Automakers continue to offer partially autonomous driving systems that affect a vehicle’s speed, braking and steering. While manufacturers tout the safety benefits of these systems, researchers say “not so fast.”

A recent investigation by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows some of these systems may be lulling drivers into a false sense of security and encouraging distractions while they’re behind the wheel.

Research focuses on two automated systems

The IIHS teamed with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to gauge these systems’ effects on driver behavior and safety on the highway. Researchers focused on two systems:

  • Adaptive cruise control: Models using ACC maintain a specified following distance depending upon the location of the car in front, automatically adjusting the vehicle’s speed.
  • Lane-centering tech: When LCT is engaged, the vehicle alerts the driver when they are in danger of wandering into another lane, and some systems adjust the car’s path.

As with other semi-automated technology, neither of these systems are meant to replace the need for the driver to be completely engaged.

The study found disturbing changes in driver behavior

During the 30-day test period, 20 volunteers were split into two groups. Ten people drove a Range Rover equipped with ACC. The others drove a Volvo with Pilot Assist, which combines ACC and LCT. Researchers reported these key takeaways:

  • At first, drivers showed no changes in engagement levels, keeping their attention focused on driving
  • By the end of the month, drivers were twice as likely to be distracted and take their hands off the wheel and their focus away from the road
  • Compared to driving without these systems engaged, drivers were 12 times more likely to take both hands off the wheel when using LCT
  • Participants driving the Range Rover with ACC were less likely to become distracted than those driving the Volvo with Pilot Assist
  • Many drivers took their eyes off the road when these systems were in use, checking their cellphones or adjusting the radio and other controls on the vehicle’s console

Researchers urge automakers and regulators to take action

The IIHS drafted a list of recommendations, such as carmakers adding warning systems that alert drivers when their focus wanders. They also note that, unlike some European nations, the U.S. has not developed any standards or rating systems to assess these devices’ capabilities and risks.

Ruckelshaus Kautzman Blackwell Bemis & Duncan, LLP

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