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Study: Drivers can become over-reliant on tech in vehicles

Published: Wednesday, December 18, 2019 @ 6:06 AM

A new AAA study shows drivers who rely on adaptive cruise control and other safety technology are more likely to be distracted behind the wheel. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
A new AAA study shows drivers who rely on adaptive cruise control and other safety technology are more likely to be distracted behind the wheel. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM(HYOSUB SHIN / AJC)

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that technology designed to make vehicles safe can pose an unexpected risk over time.

The study found that drivers can become too reliant and comfortable with the technology, leading them to multi-task and engage in distracted driving. Drivers that installed technological assistance systems in their cars were almost twice as likely to take their eyes off the road, according to a release from AAA.

AAA advised that technology such as lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control are meant to assist, not replace, the driver. 

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Researchers from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute studied two groups of drivers: those who already owned vehicles with assistive technology and those who were given vehicles with assistive technology for the purpose of the study.

Using video cameras mounted in the cars, researchers evaluated drivers’ behavior as they used adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance technology. Drivers using the technology showed a 50 percent increase in performing secondary tasks and an 80 percent increase in performing tasks that diverted their hands or eyes away from driving when the systems were active.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said secondary tasks that impact driving can take different forms. Multi-tasking could mean something like watching pedestrians or checking the central console. Manual tasks might be something like holding a cell phone or smoking. A visual-manual task would be texting while driving or adjusting vehicle controls. Cognitive tasks would include engaging in conversation with a passenger or through a hands-free device.

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Kara Hitchens, AAA spokesperson, advised that drivers should not become too reliant on assistive devices in their vehicles.

“When speed control or steering are automated, the driver is still required to monitor traffic and be ready to resume full control of the vehicle,” Hitchens said. “Unfortunately, drivers can become over-reliant on these technologies over time, which can lead to inattentiveness because of engagement in non-driving-related tasks or even becoming drowsy when driving with these systems engaged.”

The study found that drivers who owned their vehicles, and therefore had more familiarity with assistive technology, were more likely to drive distracted. Those who were unfamiliar with the technology were more attentive and engaged as they drove.

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Researchers theorized that as drivers were getting accustomed to a new assistive device, they are less likely to trust the system, so they remain engaged while driving. Once they learn to trust the device, however, they relied on it more often and as a result became more distracted as they drove.

“Advanced driver assistance technologies have a lot to offer in terms of comfort and safety, but they should never replace an attentive and engaged driver,” said Dr. William Van Tassel, AAA manager of driver training programs. “Remember, technology fails us daily while at work and at home. So, don’t get caught driving distracted when being focused on the road can save your life.”