New Tech Can Create Complacent Drivers

Traffic Safety Pulse News

Drivers with more experience using advanced driver assistance systems engage in more distracted behavior.

New developments in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, promise to increase driver awareness and safety. The only problem? Drivers with experience using these systems are nearly twice as likely to engage in distracted driving while the systems are on, per new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Drivers with less experience and familiarity with the technologies, meanwhile, were less likely to drive while distracted while the systems were activated than when the technologies were not in use. 

"This research suggests that as drivers become more comfortable with new safety features, they tend to develop complacency behind the wheel," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "It's important to remember that these systems are designed to assist driving, not replace it outright. The bottom line is that over-reliance on this type of technology can put drivers and others in danger." 

Researchers at the AAA Foundation collaborated with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to analyze video of on-road behaviors for two groups of drivers using advanced driver assistance technology. Individuals in one group owned a vehicle equipped with ADAS and had more experience using the systems. Drivers in the other group were given a vehicle equipped with ADAS to use during the 4-week study period and had less experience with the technology. 

The research found that drivers who owned their vehicles – and therefore had more familiarity with ADAS technology – were more likely to drive distracted when these systems were active than when they were not. Among this group, researchers observed an increased prevalence in distracted driving behaviors including texting or adjusting the radio. Drivers with less experience using the technologies were more likely to remain attentive and engaged while the systems were switched on.

Virginia Tech researchers theorize that drivers move through different phases tied to experience using ADAS. First-timers start in a novelty phase where they learn and test the technology. These drivers are less inclined to trust the system's functionality and reliability, so they remain active, alert, and engaged while driving. Eventually, drivers reach an experienced user phase where over-reliance and too much trust in the systems become more common. These drivers are more apt to take their eyes and attention away from the road. 

Research in other industries indicates that pilots and nuclear technicians demonstrate similar patterns of over-reliance on automated systems. These behaviors can eventually lead to outright distraction. 

"Advanced driver assistance technologies have a lot to offer in terms of comfort and safety, but only when they're used to complement the driving experience by giving additional information to engaged drivers," McKinley said. "Technology fails us daily while at work and at home. Our cars are one place we should never fully rely on new technology – as staying focused on the road will save your life, something no safety system can promise." 

AAA offers three simple steps for how to ACE your next vehicle rental or purchase:

  • Always remain active and engaged when using ADAS technologies such as lane-keep assist or adaptive cruise control.
  • Commit to knowing what ADAS technologies are installed on your vehicle and how they work.
  • Expect that the advanced driver assistance technologies in your vehicle have limitations.

Read the full report here