More and more technological advances designed to aid driving and to make driving safer can, in some cases, have the opposite effect. Automobile dashboards are starting to look like aircraft cockpits and, as any fighter pilot can tell you, more and more instruments and displays can be overwhelming; preventing the pilot from doing the basic job of actually flying the aircraft. Computerized displays in the dashboard can be very distracting and some safety innovations can give the driver a false sense of security leading to more dangerous driving behaviors. A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study conducted by Virginia Tech showed that 80% of vehicle collisions involved driver inattention within three seconds of the event. A car traveling at 40 mph covers almost 60 feet per second and a driver whose attention is diverted for just two to three seconds can cover up to 176 feet. A lot can happen in that short span of time.
In-Dash Computers – New powerful computers are available that offer entertainment, GPS, and standard computing options. They come equipped with wireless Bluetooth technology, touch-screen controls and USB ports for adding keyboards to write emails. While they may offer some convenience, trying to read a selection menu on a small in-dash computer screen requires a lot of concentration that should be devoted to the road ahead. Another thing to remember is that, with the exception of GPS and back-up cameras, visual display devices, such as a computers or video players in view of the driver is illegal in many states.
GPS – This is a tremendous technological advance for anyone who travels a lot. Anyone trying to find their way around a strange city knows what a terrific device it can be. However, taking your eyes off the road to read the map or to use the touch screen to punch in a destination can be very distracting. Some GPS systems have an interlock that prevents a driver from entering data while the vehicle is in motion. Experts say that while all GPS devices are distracting the safest devices are the voice activated systems that don’t require looking at or touching the screen to program or receive data.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) – This system, which will be required standard equipment in all new cars beginning in 2012, uses computers and independent brakes on each wheel to “steer” the car to prevent a skid and, ultimately, a roll over. The drawback in this system is that drivers may feel they can drive faster and take more risks because the ESC is there to keep them from losing control.
Adaptive headlights – These headlights pivot in the direction that a driver is turning allowing them to see objects around a bend sooner. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) cites studies that have shown that drivers on dark curving roads feel they can go faster when the road is equipped with reflectors or other road markers. IIHS feels that adaptive headlights may provide a false sense of security prompting some drivers to drive even faster.
Lane Departure Warning – This system can detect an unintentional lane departure (if the turn signal is not activated) and either vibrates the steering wheel, activates an alarm and in some cases applies the brakes to keep the vehicle within the lane. This will be a terrific lifesaving device as long as drivers don’t allow it to substitute for a good night’s sleep before hitting the road or feel that they can allow their eyes to wander off the road for longer periods of time.
Blind spot detectors – Mounted on the rear view mirrors, this device signals a driver either by a light, audible tone, or both that another vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot. It is normally activated when the driver activates a turn signal. The blind spot detectors are mounted on the rear view mirrors and the IIHS feels that many drivers may ignore them or, in heavy traffic, shut out the constant warnings of vehicles in the blind spot.
Technology is great but it can’t make up for an irresponsible driver. These potentially life-saving systems are only an effective back-up for those drivers who stick to the speed limit, drive safely, and act responsibly. Read more Safety Alerts related to vehicle safety features and technology at the National Safety Commission.