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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


A misguided trust

Lately, the availability of driver assist features has proliferated on new vehicles.  In many cases, these items, once only optional, are becoming standard equipment (tire pressure monitoring system, backup camera).  Since their introductions, I’ve been warning drivers not to depend wholly on these devices — to consider them no more than the assists they are intended to be.

A backup camera should not preclude checking around your vehicle for persons or objects potentially in your path before getting inside your car or truck.  Also, turning one’s neck to check to the rear is still recommended during reverse operation.

TPMS is a worthy feature alerting drivers of sudden air pressure loss or even the presence of a slow leak.  The system does not, however, replace the need for periodic physical pressure checks to assure proper and even inflation.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concurs with my premise of misguided trust.  Most drivers don’t understand the limitations of advanced safety technology installed on new vehicles, according to their new study.  Beyond the dependence on backup cameras and TPMS, their findings indicate that drivers overestimate the capabilities of features such as blind-spot monitoring systems, automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.

“A substantial proportion of respondents demonstrated what we believe was a concerning lack of awareness of some of the key limitations of the technologies,” said Brian Tefft, senior researcher for the AAA Foundation.  The findings raise questions about whether Americans are ready to adapt to partially self-driving vehicles, which typically require drivers to remain alert and ready to take over the steering wheel if the car can’t handle the conditions it encounters.

AAA conclusions:

• Blind-spot monitoring:  Nearly 80 percent of drivers don’t understand the limitations or thought that the system had greater capability to detect fast-approaching vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.  Relying too much on blind-spot monitoring, about 25 percent of drivers within the study did not physically look for adjacent/approaching vehicles when they changed lanes.

• Forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking:  Many drivers confuse the two.  The first is only a warning system, while the other takes action.  More than 40 percent of drivers don’t know these limitations.  Without automatic braking, drivers must react to the forward collision warning by applying the brakes on their own.

• Adaptive cruise control:  Nearly one-third of drivers who use this system, which accelerates and brakes on its own, are sometimes comfortable ‘engaging in other activities’ while the system is activated, according to the study.  This approach will invariably end up in conflicts or collisions with surrounding traffic.

The researchers emphasized that advanced driver assistance systems are generally helpful aids to traffic safety.  Such technologies can prevent about 40 percent of crashes and 30 percent of crash deaths, according to federal estimates.

But a problem arises when drivers don’t understand how systems work or place too much trust in them.  “I think there's a general assumption among members of the public that technologies in vehicles today will do things for us,” said Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research for AAA. “These technologies are not meant to replace us behind the wheel. They’re meant to help us out.”  I could not have said it better.

Nelson said that it’s important for dealers, automakers and rental-car companies to educate drivers as to how these systems work.  And he summarized, “We shouldn’t be marketing them in a way that could potentially mislead folks.”

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at