Safety 2.0: How safe are driver assistance devices in cars?

Whenever there are scientific discoveries that lead to advances in technology, the car industry is usually there to take advantage of it. When the microprocessor was introduced to the market, cars started utilizing electronic control units. When GPS navigation was being developed, the automotive industry was one of the first to put it to commercial use.

The next wave of technology advancement is artificial intelligence. After Tesla Motors’ founder and CEO, Elon Musk, decided that self-driving cars would be a main commercial and personal goal of his, the rest of the industry started to follow suit. Even the U.S. Department of Transportation supports self-driving car technology. If you visit the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website on autonomous vehicle technology, it reads, “Fully autonomous cars and trucks that drive us instead of us driving them will become a reality.”

Many supporters of driverless car technology believe that car safety will improve if an artificial intelligence is behind the wheel. After all, a computer can’t get sleepy, intoxicated, or distracted – theoretically. Significantly, this technology could be ready and available for consumers within our lifetime.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

New cars are already implementing automated safety systems – officially called advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Most car manufacturers include ADAS devices as a standard feature in their factory model cars. A device’s level of advancement ranges from semi-autonomous to nearly fully autonomous, as some ADAS systems alert the driver about a safety hazard, while others have the capability of avoiding safety hazards.

Common ADAS devices in today’s car models include:

  • Forward collision warning (FCW). Drivers receive an audible verbal warning of an imminent collision.
  • Automatic emergency braking (AEB). A car will automatically apply the brakes to avoid a collision hazard.
  • Adaptive cruise control (ACC). Cars will automatically match the speed of the traffic in front of the vehicle – accelerating for faster traffic, and braking for slower conditions.
  • Lane departure warning (LDW). Drivers will receive an audible verbal warning if the vehicle drifts out of the current road lane.
  • Lane keeping assist (LKA). A car will automatically course-correct it’s steering to avoid drifting out of the current lane.
  • Blind-spot warning (BSW). Drivers will get an audible alert when a vehicle or other object is in the car’s rear mirror blind spot.
  • Rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA). Drivers will be alerted to oncoming traffic as while driven in reverse.

The Unintended Consequences of Automated Safety

As safety technology advances, does it truly make the act of operating a car safer? Or does it merely give drivers a false sense of security? These issues were the focus of a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The AAA Study made the following critical observations:

  • 33% of owners of cars featuring ADAS devices were ignorant of the fact that many systems relied on cameras and sensors that could easily be obstructed by dirt, ice, or snow;
  • 30% of surveyed car owners of cars with BSM systems reported that they stopped checking blind spots visually;
  • 29% of surveyed car owners admitted to surrendering their attention to distractions while using ACC; and
  • 25% of surveyed car owners with RCTA admitted to sometimes reversing without looking over their shoulder.

Significantly, artificial intelligence and the peripheral technologies that are necessary for cars to drive with full autonomy – that is, without any intervention by the driver – are still young fields of study and development. Could it be possible that ADAS features were rolled out to market prematurely?

Consider the fact that the driver’s manual for a Tesla car with ACC contains the following warning:

“Traffic-Aware Cruise Control cannot detect all objects and may not brake/decelerate for stationary vehicles, especially in situations when you are driving over 50 mph (80 km/h)… Always pay attention to the road ahead and stay prepared to take immediate corrective action. Depending on Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to avoid collision can result in serious death or injury.” (emphasis added)

Remarkably, one of the flaws of Tesla’s ACC system involved precisely that – an ability to slow down for stopped cars while driving at freeway speeds.

Technology, while helpful, seems to have contributed to an environment where expecting results and performance on-demand is a ubiquitous mindset. We can’t deny that ADAS technology has unparalleled potential in protecting public safety. However, the technology should be refined a little more before introducing it to consumers, rather than counting on accidents as data for making necessary improvements. And, consumers should exercise patience before jumping at the release of a too-good-to-be-true gadget, or else risk being used as a guinea pig for developing safety 2.0.

Call Our Personal Injury Attorneys in Bryan for Legal Advice

If automated driverless car technology is the inevitable vision of our future, we can only hope that public safety does not unnecessarily suffer to attain that goal. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, or by a dangerous product, you should consult an experienced Bryan personal injury attorney for advice. At Waltman & Grisham, Attorneys at Law, we can handle a wide range of personal injury matters, from car accidents to products liability cases.

Call Waltman & Grisham Attorneys at Law at (979) 227-4888 or contact us online today to schedule a complimentary case evaluation with one of our experienced attorneys.