It wasn't that long ago that the most advanced technology in the console of a car consisted of the clock and a stereo. Today, cars are packed with technological features that are designed to assist drivers and passengers in a variety of ways. With any technology, though, there's a question of how much becomes too much. Is automotive technology getting in the way of driving and is it to blame for accidents?
Here are a few ways in which new technologies in cars can end up causing more harm than good.
Like many modern automotive technologies, hands-free driving features that let drivers make and answer phone calls via voice command are intended to make the total driving experience safer. They also attempt to help drivers comply with the hands-free driving laws that have been enacted in 22 states and territories. Unfortunately, hands-free calling doesn't necessarily put an end to distracted driving.
There are still drivers who make and answer calls with their hands, even when they have access to hands-free options. Others check their texts while driving or touch their phone to change settings. What's worse is that having a phone conversation while you drive can still be extremely distracting—according to some studies, these drivers can miss up to 50% of the things going on around them.
According to the <ahref="https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving" target="_blank">National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2018 saw 2,841 deaths related to distracted driving, a count that included drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians. While not all of these deaths can be attributed to cell phone use—other distractions include eating, interacting with passengers, or concentrating on the stereo, navigation, or entertainment system—texting and other cell phone use is a major issue.
Driver-Assist Features and Alerts
Many drivers appreciate safety systems that alert them to looming threats, like alarms that sound when backing up to warn of proximity to people, animals, or inanimate objects. There are also assistive technologies that help drivers to park or hit the brakes if they're reacting too slowly to a threat.
There are few potential problems with these technologies. Visual features like blinking lights when there's someone in the blind spot and audible alarms going off when you're backing up, for example, could be distracting enough to cause harm.
Potentially more problematic, though, is an overreliance on and misunderstanding of the ways that assistive technologies work. Some drivers mistakenly believe that cruise control not only manages vehicle speed, but also steers the car. Some people don't know that automatic braking systems won't function properly when the cameras that feed the system needed information are covered with dirt, snow, or other obstructions.
Ultimately, misplaced trust in these systems can cause a lack of vigilance that leads to accidents, as well.
The prospect of self-driving cars holds intrigue for many drivers, who value the convenience and privacy of travel in their own cars, but wouldn't mind making better use of time spent in their daily commutes.
Unfortunately, self-driving cars don't yet have the human capabilities to react to dangers or to navigate existing road conditions—not to mention responding appropriately to weather conditions! Furthermore, there's the ever-present threat that these connected technologies on which these vehicles operate can be hacked.
While many emerging automotive technologies are rooted in a desire to add convenience and safety to the driving experience, tools like hands-free communication, driver assist, and even self-driving systems still rely heavily on driver engagement. When drivers are distracted, accidents are the natural result.