The push towards autonomous, or self-driving, cars is growing and nearly every carmaker is already on board. One of the strongest arguments for autonomous cars is they eliminate the biggest threat to safety—the driver. In the meantime, driver-assist technologies are now almost commonplace in new models.
However, research shows that many drivers don’t know how to use these features correctly, and some even purposely disengage the features. Understanding why these shortfalls occur can help motorists take better advantage of sophisticated safety technology.
It Starts at the Dealership
A recent small-scale study conducted by the MIT Agelab and reported in Wired magazine found many car dealerships do a pretty poor job of explaining how safety features work and teaching buyers how to use them. When undercover shoppers were sent out to 18 Boston-area car dealerships, only six salespeople were able to give a thorough explanation of safety features such as crash avoidance, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot monitoring. These driver-assist technologies are often touted as the solution to reckless and distracted driving. However, when drivers aren’t taught how to use them, the features are rendered almost useless.In fact, a survey conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that two-thirds of Hondas brought in for servicing at Washington DC-area dealerships had their lane-departure warning systems turned off by owners. Apparently, drivers didn't understand what the warning light and bell were for, so they disengaged the system.
When drivers are educated about how safety features work, they're more likely to use them correctly and less likely to be involved in a collision.
Understand What Features Do and How to Use Them
Not long ago, the focus of automotive safety was on protecting the driver when a collision occurred through features such as seatbelts, airbags, reinforced passenger compartments, and increased crumple zones. With these passive features, drivers didn't have to do anything to make them work correctly.
Now, the focus is on avoiding the crash in the first place, and this technology requires interaction with the driver. One of the major causes of accidents is lack of driver awareness of an impending hazards. The following newer safety technologies were developed to help eliminate this problem:
- Lane keep assist. Detects when a vehicle has left the lane of travel and steers it back into the lane.
- Electronic stability control. Slows individual wheels during a turn to keep a vehicle on course. Can also prevent rollover accidents.
- Adaptive cruise control. Monitors the speed the driver has set and adjusts it as necessary to maintain a safe following distance.
- Adaptive headlights. Changes forward illumination based on the amount of daylight and weather and road conditions.
- Collision warning system. Alerts the driver when an object is approaching and a crash is likely.
- Active park assist. Uses sensors to parallel park the car with no steering from the driver.
- 360-degree camera. Provides a view of what's happening behind a car when it's in reverse so the driver won't hit an obstacle or person.
- Drowsiness alert. Signals the driver when his actions seem to indicate he's not fully alert.
With most of these features, a driver is required to take action in response to a warning rather than being passively protected. That's why it's so important to understand how the features work before you head out on the road. The National Safety Council and Iowa State University have developed a website, MyCarDoesWhat.org, to help drivers understand how to use safety technology correctly. If your dealer fails to provide this information, this website is a good resource.
Protect Your Rights When Another Driver Is Uninformed
Even if you know how to use your vehicle's safety technologies, you could be the victim of another driver who is less informed. If you were injured by another driver—no matter what safety features your car or his car has—you may be able to hold him accountable for your losses. Connect with us through the form on this page to learn more.