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4 Reasons It Might Be Dangerous to Rely on Your Car’s Technology

Don’t skip traditional safe driving practices

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Your high-tech car can prevent you from drifting into the wrong lane, help you see what’s behind you, and provide an alert if you’re too close to that truck on the highway.

But is it dangerous to skip more traditional safety checks to avoid pitfalls? It might be.

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Since most car accidents are caused by human error, advances in automotive technology that keep us safer on the road — especially in emergency situations — can help reduce the number of accidents, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

However, becoming accustomed to advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) — including backup cameras, lane-assist warnings and emergency braking — or relying exclusively on the GPS for directions may be turning some drivers into less careful motorists.

Drivers may no longer turn their heads to check blind spots, thinking that a beep or flashing light will provide an alert instead. Motorists might not bother to turn around and look out the back window while in reverse, assuming the rear-view camera shows the entire picture. They may even zone out while driving, thinking the GPS will provide enough time to cross three lanes of traffic for an exit.

But here are some reasons drivers should be aware of vehicle technology limitations and stay alert behind the wheel.

1. Vehicle safety technology can’t do everything

ADAS are changing the nature of driving, says William Horrey, technical director of the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety in Washington, D.C.

“These systems are taking on additional driving responsibilities, whether they’re controlling your speed and spacing with an adaptive cruise control system or controlling your position with lane sensory technology,” he says. But these features are far from foolproof, he adds.

Last year, the AAA Foundation released new research about how cameras, automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance work in heavy rain or when smeared with dirt or squashed insects. In lousy weather or less-than-ideal driving conditions, ADAS equipment that relies on sensors and cameras can’t clearly “see” the road, other cars or painted lines, which could affect the car’s performance, Horrey says.

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​​Be an Informed Consumer and Safer Driver

Efforts to avoid becoming overly reliant on a vehicle’s high-tech tools doesn’t mean drivers shouldn’t use the safety features available. Just be aware of what vehicles do and don’t offer, and incorporate those high-tech features into existing safe driving techniques.

When purchasing a new vehicle, educate yourself on the available technology by reading the owner’s manual or watching online videos, suggests William Horrey of the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety. Book an in-vehicle demonstration to test-drive a car and learn how its systems work.

“At the point of sale, ask questions about the technology. It’s amazing how overfocused the handoff can be surrounding getting your phone synced with the car, but no one talks about anything else,” he says.

AAA offers several resources to help drivers learn about how ADAS work — including their limitations. AARP’s Smart Driver Course, available online or in person near you, provides guidance on safe driving techniques and vehicle technology.

Keep in mind that while today’s vehicles provide driver-support features, “the driver is still responsible for all aspects of driving,” Horrey says. “You might not be pressing the accelerator or the brake or steering the car every moment of your trip anymore, but you’re still responsible for monitoring the traffic environment, even with these features activated.

While ADAS work well in many circumstances, their effectiveness varies from vehicle to vehicle and from situation to situation. That’s why drivers should always treat technology as an aid, not a crutch, says William Van Tassel, AAA’s manager of driver training programs.

“It’s tempting to rely exclusively on technology, whether it’s lane-keeping assistance, the rear-view camera or the blind spot warning systems, but there are limitations to those systems,” he warns.

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For example, a smudge of dirt or a drop of water on your rear-view camera could block the view, he adds, or a sensor could break without notice.

2. Many drivers aren’t familiar with their car’s technology or how it works

In a 2018 AAA study, 40 percent of respondents wrongly assumed that their forward collision warning system would automatically engage the emergency braking, not realizing the car would alert them only with a light and would not apply the brakes. The study also found that drivers mistakenly thought their car’s blind spot monitoring system could “see” everything, including cyclists and pedestrians, when it could only “recognize” fast-moving cars.

“It’s clear that people don’t have a very good understanding of the limitations of the systems,” Horrey says. “If you’re operating a system and you have expectations about what it will do, and you get into a situation where that’s no longer the case, you could find yourself in trouble — not just in terms of recognizing that something is going wrong, but also having the time to take back control of the vehicle and respond appropriately.”

3. Drivers can become lazy

Whether it’s depending on your cruise control or blind spot detector, you may unconsciously give yourself permission to daydream or not pay as much attention as you used to, creating a distracted driving situation, says Horrey. “As you interact with a system that does a pretty good job most of the time, you begin to trust it and get more comfortable.”

Horrey notes that a study done by the AAA Foundation with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that experienced drivers or long-term owners of vehicles with some of these technologies were “more likely to engage in secondary, distracting tasks while they were using the systems, compared to a group that hadn’t really built up that rapport with the system.”

4. Drivers become too reliant

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A 2021 study conducted by Aceable, an e-learning provider of driver education, concluded that reliance on smart car technology could weaken driving and navigation skills. For example, 61 percent of study participants said their vehicle’s safety features made them feel comfortable enough to briefly take their eyes off the road, while 58 percent said they rely on their car’s sensors and don’t check around their vehicle for pedestrians.

“These technologies are great, but they should only be considered as backups to good driving practices,” says Van Tassel. “Drive as if you don’t have them and allow them to back you up if needed, rather than relying on them to save you. The driver is still the most effective technology in the vehicle.”

Go back to ‘old-school’ driving techniques

Some drivers, like Alice Knisley-Matthias, 54, have not let ADAS take over.

“I find it more distracting. I drive with classical music on in the car for a peaceful atmosphere, and all the beeps and blips are unwelcome noise,” says Knisley-Matthias, who lives in Staten Island, New York.

While vehicle safety technology is meant to make driving safer, it shouldn’t replace the role of an engaged driver behind the wheel — something Knisley-Matthias takes to heart.

“I’m aware of what features are in the car and what it says in the manual, but I think the blind spot features have blind spots, so I would never completely rely on the technology,” she says. “I still feel I am my best defense.”

Horrey recommends using the rear-view camera as one source of information while also swiveling your head to check behind and around you. Same for lane-assist systems: Don’t wait for a blinking light; look over your shoulder and check your blind spot every time.

Knisley-Matthias also worries that newer drivers, who have grown up with high-tech vehicles, might not drive as safely as those who learned the rules before those tools existed.

“As new drivers, we learned the basic rules and refined our reflexes and focus,” Knisley-Matthias says. “I don’t know if new drivers will develop the same skill set with technology available right from the start.”

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