Drivers over-rely on safety tech they don't understand, AAA finds

Researchers say new- and used-car buyers need more education

More and more newer-model vehicles are coming equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) like blind-spot detection and lane-keeping assist, but a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that many drivers don't understand the limitations of the safety technologies and rely too heavily on them — and increasing instead of decreasing the risk of crashes.

Researchers say the findings highlight the importance of educating new- and used-car buyers about how the safety technologies work and what their limitations are.

"When properly utilized, ADAS technologies have the potential to prevent 40 percent of all vehicle crashes and nearly 30 percent of traffic deaths," Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a statement. "However, driver understanding and proper use is crucial in reaping the full safety benefits of these systems. Findings from this new research show that there is still a lot of work to be done in educating drivers about proper use of ADAS technologies and their limitations."

The study commissioned researchers from the University of Iowa to survey drivers who'd purchased a 2016 or 2017 model-year vehicle equipped with advanced driver assistance systems. Among the findings:
  • Nearly 80 percent of drivers with blind-spot monitoring systems were unaware of the technology's limitations or incorrectly believed it could accurately detect vehicles passing at very high speeds or bicycles and pedestrians. Such systems are only currently capable of detecting when a vehicle is traveling in a driver's blind spot.
  • Nearly 40 percent didn't understand the limitations of forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems, or confused the two technologies. They believed that the former could apply the brakes in case of an emergency, when the technology is only designed to deliver a warning signal. One in six owners didn't know whether their vehicles were equipped with automatic emergency braking.
  • Nearly one in four respondents reported both feeling confident enough in their blind-spot monitoring or rear cross traffic alert systems that they didn't perform visual checks or look over their shoulder for oncoming traffic or pedestrians.
  • Nearly a quarter felt comfortable engaging in other tasks while driving because they had forward collision or lane departure warning systems.

Only about half of the drivers who report purchasing their vehicle from a dealership recalled being trained about the ADAS technology, AAA said. Almost 90 percent of those who were offered training took advantage and completed it.

You can get a good rundown with Autoblog's handy explainer for how many of the latest safety technologies work.

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