Automatic driving systems can cause complacency behind the wheel


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Concerns are rising about automated driving systems as more people hit the road for the holidays.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said it’s a worrisome trend.

As the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. But, when it comes to cars, familiarity with driver-assistance systems doesn’t breed contempt — it breeds complacency. Advanced driver-assistance technology like lane assist and adaptive cruise control is designed to make cars safer, but an IIHS study said it’s not helping in some cases.

“Right now it’s the wild west out there,” said IIHS’s vice president of research Jessica Cicchino. “There aren’t requirements for what these systems need to do to make sure drivers pay attention to the road.”

Those systems are very prevalent. AAA said nearly 93 percent of all new cars have at least one available advanced driver assistance feature, which can help to: 

  • Maintain lane 
  • Maintain speed  
  • Keep an appropriate distance from other cars  
  • Hit the brakes

“We saw that, when drivers first got the vehicles, there wasn’t any difference in how often they took their hands off the wheel or were distracted by the phone,” Cicchino said.

 But, after a month of using those systems, drivers in the study started to become distracted. They would look at phones or take their hands off the wheel for long periods.

Cicchino said more needs to be done to make sure drivers are aware the systems are not driving the car by themselves. 

“We think these systems need to do a better job of monitoring the driver,” she said.

There have been a number of high-profile crashes involving drivers who let vehicles run by themselves. In August, a doctor driving a Tesla crashed into a Nash County Sheriff’s Office cruiser. The driver admitted he was watching a movie while the car was on autopilot.

The marketing names of the driver-assist systems may also be playing a role in how people perceive what they can do.

“When it comes to those automated systems, there hasn’t been anything yet to make sure they aren’t calling them things that suggest they have more capacities than they already do,” Cicchino said.

At highway speed, a vehicle travels hundreds of feet in the three seconds a driver can take their eyes off the road.

“You’re going a long way not seeing what’s in front of you,” Cicchino said.

Until cars are completely self-driving, people — not vehicles — have a responsibility for all their actions behind the wheel. 

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