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January 2020

Drivers accustomed to driver-assist technologies tend to exhibit more distracted driving

January 6, 2020

Do drivers become over-reliant on driver-assist technologies and exhibit more distracted driving?

Apparently so, according to recent research.

Studies conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) found that drivers who own cars with assistance technology are nearly twice as likely to engage in texting, adjusting radio or infotainment settings and other distracting behaviors when those features are turned on than when they are off.

In 2017 alone, 3,166 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Researchers at VTTI examined data from two previous studies, one based on observations of 30 people driving their own personal vehicles, and the second study based on 120 participants who drove a study vehicle for a month. All vehicles were equipped with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance systems, plus video cameras and sensors to collect data.

Drivers who used their own vehicles were 50% more likely to engage in secondary tasks and 80% more likely to engage in visual or manual distractions when using the semi-autonomous systems. Researchers also found these drivers also took more frequent and longer glances at non-driving-related tasks and kept their eyes on the road less.

In the second group, where participants drove a study vehicle, researchers reported these drivers were less likely to be distracted when the assistance systems were deployed. However, the drivers of the leased vehicles (who had some training on using the systems) were found to be slightly more likely to speed when the systems were activated.

Analysts noted drivers using the borrowed cars were still learning the systems and probably less likely to trust the technology. These drivers received detailed training about the systems, which the researchers said could account for why these participants were less likely to drive distracted.

Drivers who used their personal vehicles were not given additional training. In fact, researchers found users of automotive technology only receive a minimal set of written and verbal instructions and dealers may not adequately educate buyers on the use of the driver-assistance features.

Authors of the study concluded driver-assistance systems can improve safety, but drivers may overestimate the technology's ability to prevent crashes. "Drivers need to be aware of potential pitfalls that exist even after they have learned when and how to use the systems," the authors cautioned.

The Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, or fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system. Most concerning is texting. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, NHTSA says that's like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.