Automakers increasingly offer automated systems controlling a vehicle’s speed, steering and braking to increase safety and reduce motor vehicle crashes. However, research suggests that some of these systems are actually leading to some drivers becoming distracted behind the wheel.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently released a report saying drivers who used two of these systems spent more time looking at their cellphones and adjusting controls on their vehicle’s console as they became more accustomed to and reliant on the new technology.
The research focused on two types of advanced driver systems
The IIHS teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab for a monthlong project focusing on 20 volunteers and how they used two types of automated systems:
- Adaptive cruise control: ACC automatically keeps a vehicle at a safe distance behind another car by slowing and speeding up based on the driver’s chosen speed.
- Lane-centering technology: LCT attempts to keep a vehicle from wandering into adjacent traffic lanes, keeping the vehicle centered inside the lane where it’s positioned.
Researchers split the volunteers in half: one group drove Range Rovers equipped with ACC, while the other drove Volvos with both ACC and LCT.
Conclusion? Drivers became increasingly distracted
At the beginning of the month, researchers say none of the drivers in either group showed signs of disengagement from their driving as they became familiar with the systems. However, as the month wore on, that changed dramatically.
By the end of the study, drivers were 12 times more likely to take both hands off the steering wheel as they became more confident in the systems. Many of them even started routinely looking at their cellphones or spent time adjusting controls on the vehicle’s console taking their eyes off the road.
Safety advocates urge automakers to take action
None of these systems are meant to take the driver’s place as they often have trouble navigating common road features, so drivers need to pay attention to the road at all times. Yet, many seemed to be lulled into a false sense of security.
The IIHS drafted a series of recommendations urging carmakers to install warning systems that detect when drivers take their eyes off the road, or become otherwise distracted. However, U.S. authorities have not yet adopted any standards for automated driving systems.