Smarter cars are the rage in the auto industry. The newest models have cameras to assist the driver in backing up and braking automatically when the vehicles senses danger. These innovations are marketed as
smarter technology to keep our driving experience safer. The level of semi-autonomous technology in new cars is impressive. Adaptive cruise control ensures your car slows with traffic. Lane departure warning technology tells you when you’ve strayed over the line. Some cars will tell you when you’re nodding off, while others will actually stop your car if a pedestrian steps into traffic.
But are they actually helping us or lulling us into a false sense of security?
“Road hazards other than the car in front of you are so rare, especially on the highway wherethese adaptive cruise control systems would be in play, that they would, over time, encourage a complacency that undermines safety,” said Erik Blaser, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, who studies vision and perception. “You stop paying attention to the driving.”
More importantly, the basic skills our ancestors honed are lost on a generation that has come to expect that a machine can do it all. If a 16-year-old learning to drive for the first time, begins to drive in one of these cars, he/she becomes reliant on the new technology so that basic driving skills are lost and never appreciated.
Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford University, says the best safety systems go unnoticed. He calls them “secret” safety systems, those unseen fail-safe systems like anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control (ESC). Such systems step in only when a driver is in trouble. Because drivers aren’t constantly made aware of their presence, they tend not to change their behavior. In other words, it doesn’t make them lazy.
In the final analysis, we need to improve driver skills as well as auto technology safety. Building one without the other is a fool’s errand that ends in failure and more accidents.