Tori, age 26, concurs with Cynthia's frustration about her new high-tech mid-sized SUV: "I have to keep messing with the screen to get what I want."
Mess around too long with your attention off the road and your car may even shut off the semi-autonomous features for you. Hand sensors on steering wheels and dash cams that watch a driver's eyes are already being used in new cars, inspiring creative — and dangerous — workarounds. Will safety-minded solutions just abet more bad behavior?
tech could make us safer … if we keep our eyes on the road
Despite their ability to step in and react for us, features like lane-centering and emergency braking ultimately risk giving us a false sense of confidence to look away from the road.
"It's amazing. If you start to veer it lets you know," says Jim, age 44, whose vehicle is equipped with lane-centering technology. He cites the usefulness of assisted-steering if you're driving with food in one hand and say, drop a fry.
Just one careless over-reliance on a feature like obstacle detection — for example, assuming your car will steer around traffic barrels in a construction zone — could end in disaster.
"The idea that consumers might rely too much upon or even abuse these new technologies is a big concern," notes Brandon Schoettle, a project manager at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute. "We are at a point where you can take your hands and feet off the controls for the most advanced systems, but not yet to the point where you can turn your brain off."
Even if truly self-driving cars were available now, most drivers aren't ready to give up the wheel. Only 17% of surveyed drivers would sacrifice driving control to safely multi-task on the road. Likewise, only 1 out of 3 drivers believe distracted behaviors should be monitored or restricted by their car. That's a sign that efforts to incentivize attentive driving may not do the trick.
For now, at least, it's as important as ever to keep our brains "on" while driving. Here are a few tips on doing just that:
- Store your phone in the back seat (or put notifications on silent) so you're not tempted to access while driving
- Set your destination in your GPS before getting on the road
- Avoid doing other activities while driving, such as eating or applying makeup
- Pull over to tend to emergencies or personal distractions (kids, etc.)
Until we admit accountability for our own distractions, we can't rely on in-car technology to squelch distracted driving. Every advancement in car tech requires that we adapt as drivers to safely — and attentively — take advantage of the promising road ahead.
Esurance conducted an online survey in December 2017 through January 2018 of 1,057 vehicle owners in the U.S. Drivers with car tech refers to owners of vehicles with warning systems (blind spot monitor, lane departure warning, collision warning, etc.) or driver override features (lane keep, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control). Additionally, fifteen interviews were conducted in December 2017 with owners of high-tech vehicles.