The tools and technology in today’s vehicles not only make them more comfortable and easier to drive; they’re also designed to help make driving safer. However, a study released late last year by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that this advanced technology often has the opposite effect. In fact, as drivers use automated safety systems more often and become dependent on it, they actually can become less safe behind the wheel.
Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, says that the problem with the advanced driver assistance systems (such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist) is that drivers become complacent and are more likely to engage in distracted driving behavior, thinking the systems will alert them if they need to address a situation on the road.
However, since road and traffic conditions are unpredictable and can change in the blink of an eye, it doesn’t mean that drivers will have enough reaction time to avoid a crash or other incident.
“Over-reliance on these systems can put drivers and others in dangerous conditions during critical moments,” Yang says.
How Automated Safety Systems Encourage Driver Distractions
The AAA study drives home the point that drivers need to be educated about how to use technology safely in order for it to be effective.
AAA researchers, in collaboration with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, analyzed video of two groups of drivers who were using advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). One set of drivers already owned vehicles equipped with ADAS and were familiar with using the technology, while the other group was not as experienced in driving vehicles featuring such technology.
For a four-week period, all drivers were given a vehicle equipped with ADAS and then were monitored to see how engaged they were while driving. The researchers observed different stages of driving when using ADAS.
Initially, during a novelty phase when they were first starting to use the technology, drivers were less likely to trust the ADAS. As a result, they remained active and engaged as drivers.
However, as they became more familiar with the technology, they started relying on it more and eventually reached a stage where they began to put too much trust in what the ADAS would do.
Once they reached the stage of becoming over-reliant on the technology, they were more likely to take their eyes off the road and not pay attention to what was happening around them.
Drivers at this stage were more likely to be distracted, so they weren’t in a position to be responsive in crucial driving environments when every second counts. After all, a vehicle going 55 mph travels the length of four football fields in just five seconds, and drivers who don’t have their eyes on the road won’t be able to react quickly enough even if their technology alerts them to a problem.
Dr. William Van Tassel, manager of driver training programs for AAA, notes that this study serves as a reminder that technology is designed to complement driver comfort and safety but should not take the place of diligence and attention behind the wheel. After all, no technology is perfect.
“Technology fails us daily at work and home,” he says. “So don’t get caught driving distracted when being focused on the road can save your life.”
Offsetting the Dangers of Distracted Driving
Distractions have always been a threat to driver safety, whether that distraction came from changing a cassette tape in the dash or trying to read a map while driving.
But today’s drivers face more distractions than ever, with new technology such as navigation systems, in-dash entertainment screens and mobile phones joining familiar attention-grabbing culprits like eating, drinking and adjusting the temperature controls.
As a result, even though our cars are getting safer, this growing array of distractions is keeping drivers from being as safe as they could be.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an average of nine people are killed and 1,000 are injured every day as a result of distracted driving.
Even though drivers know that distracted driving is dangerous, it’s still common. In a recent survey, while 37% of drivers agreed that distractions from mobile devices were dangerous, about 29% of them also admitted that texting while driving was their No. 1 distraction behind the wheel. And almost 57% said they ate or drank while driving.
While this is dangerous for everyone on the road, it creates a bigger problem for companies that employ drivers and are held liable for the actions of those drivers.
It’s important for companies to educate their drivers about the problems of distracted driving and the danger of becoming too complacent with the ADAS technology in their vehicles. Implementing solutions to help make drivers safer behind the wheel is also advisable.
3 Solutions to Improve Driver Safety
1. Inform drivers about ADAS features (and shortcomings).
To begin with, all drivers should become familiar with the capabilities of the ADAS technology in their vehicle, but also should be made aware of its limitations.
Such technology is not a substitution for alert, diligent driving practices; it’s designed to supplement those practices. Reinforce to drivers that the ADAS technology is a tool to help them do their job better, not a solution to do their job for them.
2. Implement a distracted driving policy.
Putting a policy in writing helps clearly outline the company’s expectations about how drivers behave on the clock.
This can include implementing guidelines such as having all drivers adjust settings like the temperature, mirrors, radio and nav systems before the car is ever put into gear. It could also include a rule that drivers must put their mobile phones away while driving to avoid the temptation to take a phone call or glance at an incoming text.
One of the great things about requiring each driver to follow these safety procedures is that they’ll become habits your drivers automatically implement when they’re off the clock, too, which means you’re helping improve the safety of the roads overall.
3. Offer training to reinforce your distracted driving policy.
Behind-the-wheel training is an effective way to show drivers, in real time, how to improve their skills and learn the proper way to keep themselves safer while driving.
Another alternative is an e-learning driving course such as Smith System’s Driving Distracted training video, which is a great tool for teaching (or reminding) drivers about the dangers of driving while distracted and provides proven practices for creating a safer driving environment.
Technology will continue to improve and evolve and will offer drivers more assistance — but the fact is that they’re still in the driver’s seat and need to maintain awareness to safely manage the changing situations around them.
Giving your drivers the tools to do that, as well as informing them about why it’s so important, can help keep your employees safer and avoid the high costs and headaches associated with on-the-job crashes.