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Does New Driving Technology Make Us Safer – Or More Reckless?

Today’s drivers have access to a huge stable of tools that can help them stay safer behind the wheel – technology that goes far beyond the all-purpose emergency kits drivers of yore stored in their trunks. No, modern cars are able to self-steer using adaptive cruise control, feature lane departure and rear traffic warnings, and have emergency breaking and 360-degree cameras.

At a time when drivers are actively awaiting self-driving vehicles, our cars are increasingly in control of themselves.

Despite all of these improvements to automotive technology, though, insurance rates aren’t falling and researchers have begun to raise an important question: are smarter cars actually safer?

New research suggests that rather than making our roads less hazardous, smarter vehicles could encourage drivers to engage in more dangerous driving behaviors, essentially canceling out the beneficial effects of these new technologies.

Innovation and Technology - Does New Driving Technology Make Us Safer – Or More Reckless
Innovation and Technology

With Improved Car Tech, Drivers Take More Risks On The Road

A Rise In Risk-Taking

When it comes to risk-taking behind the wheel, we know that most people already participate in a variety of dangerous behaviors. From quickly checking a text message or passing something to a fussing child, to trying to manipulate GPS settings, we are often inclined – or forced – to multitask.

Among those who drive cars with either adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assist, however, a new report by State Farm shows that dangerous behaviors like manually dialing the phone, reading text messages, and even video chatting all increase substantially.

For example, while only about 19% of drivers without adaptive cruise control use video chat occasionally while driving, nearly 40% of those using this technology will make a video call. These aren’t harmless lapses and they aren’t the kinds of behaviors that adaptive driving technology is meant to compensate for.

Who’s To Blame?

Now that we know that drivers are behaving irresponsibly when given access to adaptive driving technologies, we also need to grapple with the consequences of that behavior. What happens, then – and who is to blame – when drivers using these tools get into accidents? Establishing fault in car accidents is a key part of reaching a settlement and recovering damages, but we don’t yet have the necessary experience to know what questions to ask in the wake of a crash.

It’s time to start asking questions, and collecting data, on the use of these technologies during crashes, as well as assessing how these tools impact driver safety and behavior.

Equipped with this new information, it’s no surprise that insurance rates haven’t dropped, and while drivers are paying more for access to these new tools, it’s also possible that their insurance rates should be increasing.

It doesn’t make sense to incentivize reckless behavior, and it’s important that we reinforce drivers how minimal current automation levels really are. The Society of Automotive Engineers categorize today’s safety features as Level 2 automation – with full automation demarcated as Level 5.

If drivers better understood this distinction, rather than viewing these new capacities as just a step away from self-driving cars, we might see more conservative behavior.

The fact of the matter is that we live in a world where many of our daily activities have been simplified by automation or other technological enhancements, generally in ways that make the work more hands-off. When it comes to driving, though, we can’t afford to step back from the wheel and leave our vehicles in control. Drivers need to stay in control of their cars, whether or not their cars seem capable of controlling themselves.


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