How Safety Features Might Make Us Worse Drivers
How Safety Features Might Make Us Worse Drivers

Lane-departure warning systems and rear-facing backup cameras are just a few innovations that can help keep drivers safe. But it’s possible that vehicle safety features may be having the opposite effect for some drivers.

Drivers may be relying too heavily on technology to keep them safe. For example, a driving instructor in Canada said that someone told him they liked lane-departure warning systems, “… because I can keep texting.”

Safety features aren’t meant to be a substitute for cautious driving. Even modern “autopilot” systems require some degree of driver attention and interaction. When drivers don’t understand how to properly use safety features – or the limits of those features – they could be at higher risk for a crash.

Lessons from Autopilot Crashes

In January 2018, a Tesla Model S struck a stopped fire truck on a Los Angeles freeway. The driver, who was uninjured in the crash, said the car had been in autopilot mode when it struck the fire truck.

Tesla’s autopilot system and Volvo’s Pilot Assist system both share the same quality: neither system can reliably detect a vehicle that’s stopped in traffic, under certain conditions. According to Wired Magazine, that’s not a defect – if vehicles were programmed to brake abruptly for stationary objects or cars ahead, they wouldn’t be able to function (road signs, buildings, and land features could trigger braking). That’s why Tesla and Volvo explain in operator manuals that drivers must pay attention while driving, so they can assume control of the vehicle in an emergency.

In fully autonomous cars, such as the ones car-for-hire service Uber has been testing, a pilot must ride inside the vehicle, in case of emergency. Even so, in March 2018, a self-driving Uber car struck and killed a pedestrian, when a safety employee was sitting behind the steering wheel.

Limitations of Backup Cameras

According to a report from Cars.com, backup cameras may not function well in poor weather. The cameras, which relay rear-facing video footage to a dashboard screen when a vehicle shifts to reverse, may show blurry or distorted images when the outside air temperature is below freezing. Some car owners have said cold weather makes the camera system fail completely. Slush, snow, and ice can accumulate on the camera lens, obscuring objects, and the camera may be unable to detect objects due to extreme shadows or light that are common at sunrise and sunset.

The Role of Driver Responsibility

New vehicle technology holds the promise of reducing traffic accidents and fatalities. But just as seat belts save lives only when used correctly, drivers must understand that safety technology alone won’t keep them safe.

Drivers need to avoid dangerous behaviors – especially speeding and driving while distracted – because their vehicles can only do so much to prevent a crash. While someday the only vehicles on the road may be fully self-driving, we’re a long way off from that scenario. Human beings still play an essential role in preventing traffic crashes and fatalities.

If you’ve been injured in a crash and believe another driver was to blame, contact the attorneys at the Austin, TX-based Evans Law Firm. As personal injury attorneys with years of experience, we help the people of Texas put their lives back on track. Contact us today to request a free, no-obligation case consultation.