Does your car claim that it can drive on the highway and detect danger? Do you take your hands off the wheel and your eyes off the road, or are you watching and waiting to take back control of the vehicle? Probably not, and might be a problem. A growing number of experts and researchers, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, are concerned that driving skills are in danger of eroding due to ubiquitous driving aids and semi-autonomous features. But is this really the case?
Bloomberg reports that a University of Michigan study on blind-spot detection system revealed a worrying trend. When drivers had access to a safety system that alerted drivers with chimes and warning lights when another car is in their blind spots, they were less likely to look over their shoulder to check when they changed lanes. This is just one study, but it adds to a growing body of anecdotal reports that drivers are relying too much on driving aids. Now, Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is sounding the alarm. He claims that everything automakers are doing to reduce driver input means that people are getting lazy and paying less attention to the road.
Until we see more studies, it’s a little early to claim driving aids are ruining our driving skills. Instead, it looks like the IIHS is more concerned with battling the hype around self-driving cars. The IIHS, the government, and car manufacturers are all concerned with liability. Who will be responsible for a car crash in the future when the driver is relying on semi-autonomous aids? The manufacturer who built the safety system or the driver who is no longer in control of the vehicle? Manufacturers and insurers want to make sure that the driver is responsible for any accidents. That means they need to encourage people to pay attention and stay in control of their car.
General Motors will make sure drivers in the new Cadillac CT6 with ‘Super Cruise’ will have to watch the road by installing eye-tracking technology – really. The Nissan ProPilot monitors the steering wheel, and if the driver removes their hands for more than thirty seconds, the system will slowly bring the car to a stop. Last year, Tesla limited their infamous Autopilot to reduce hands-free driving. Critics claim that most of these systems still allow drivers to take their attention off the road for far too long. And yet automakers are marketing these systems with misleading terminology and aggressive advertising.
The AAA is encouraging automakers to standardize the terminology and warning systems so that drivers know what to expect but automakers want to highlight their unique advantages over the competition. Not only does this present drivers with a plethora of different systems, but it also encourages manufacturers to exaggerate their autonomous capabilities – no matter how they try to avoid liability. It looks like consumers aren’t lazy or losing their skills, just overly trusting.
We understand that until full autonomy transforms the driving experience (and corresponding liability issues), the onus falls on drivers to maintain their skills and pay attention. Really, most drivers on the road today are bad drivers whether or not they have an electronic aid. There have always been people that don’t buckle up, check their mirrors, or use their indicators. Until we reach full autonomy, bad drivers are just the reality.