Back in 1959, the invention of the 3-point seatbelt was hailed as an incredible new automobile technology that would change car safety forever. And it has, in fact, saved over a million lives, according to rough estimates.

Automobile technology has come a long way since then. Today, devices like rear-view cameras, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) like blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist are standard on many vehicles. In addition, infotainment systems now allow a driver to make phone calls, check navigation systems, and turn on their favourite music, all while keeping their hands on the wheel (supposedly).

And let’s not even get started on fully automated driverless systems (that’s a topic for another time).

The question then, is do all these new in-vehicle technologies actually make driving safer?

“When properly utilized, ADAS technologies have the potential to prevent 40 percent of all vehicle crashes and nearly 30 percent of traffic deaths. However, driver understanding and proper use is crucial in reaping the full safety benefits of these systems,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

And with driver education of these new technologies rarely given any attention, “proper use and understanding” of the systems currently leaves a lot to be desired.

Studies have shown that many drivers are unaware of the safety limitations of these advanced driver assistance systems, and sometimes, that can lead to disastrous results.

Examples from the AAA  Foundation studies:

  • 80% of drivers were unaware of the limitations of Blind Spot Monitoring, believing incorrectly that the system can monitor the roadway behind the vehicle or reliably detect bicycles, pedestrians and vehicles passing at high speeds. (None of this is true. The technology can only tell when another vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot, and it often can’t detect bikes or pedestrians.)
  • 25% of drivers using Blind Spot Monitoring felt they didn’t have to look over their shoulders to visually double-check the blind spot (this is an extremely dangerous omission).
  • 40% of drivers did not know the limitations of forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, or confused the two systems and thought they worked together (they don’t).
  • 25% of drivers felt comfortable engaging in other tasks while using lane departure warning and/or forward collision warning systems (again, very dangerous).


Eyes on the Road or the Radio?

New “infotainment” systems in modern cars can offer a lot of safety features: Hands-off mobile calls and navigation among them. But despite their voice-activated features, with intentions to help keep drivers’ eyes and attention on the road, studies have shown that these technologies are proving to be quite a distraction, particularly for older drivers.

Performing tasks such as placing calls, navigation entry and programming music stations caused younger drivers (aged 21-36) to take an average of 23.7 seconds to complete the task. Older drivers (aged 55-75) were found to take even longer: an average of 30.4 seconds to complete one of those tasks.

Did you know that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles a driver’s risk of a crash? Just imagine the damage that all of that fiddling with an infotainment system can cause.

For a glaring example of the lack of education of how to safely use these new driving safety technologies, one needs only have a glimpse at the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s “Safe Driving Practices” web page. All that’s mentioned on this page are seatbelts, blind spots, speed limits and yielding the right of way. All vitally important, no doubt. But nary a word about embracing new driver-assist safety technologies that are present in nearly every new vehicle.

Driving Home the Point

Insisting on in-vehicle demonstrations; reading the manuals carefully; asking the manufacturers and dealerships as many questions about the technologies as possible. These are just some of the things that drivers can do to make better and safer use of these high-tech systems.

“The training drivers need to properly use the safety technologies in their vehicles is not currently offered,” says Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “If educating consumers about vehicle technology was as much a priority for the automakers and dealers as making the sale, we would all reap the benefits.”

For now, the results are still concerning, and can lead to tragic consequences. But the hope is, with time, and education, these driver-assist technologies will start fulfilling their promise to vastly reduce the number of serious accidents. Heck, they might even become as conventional as strapping on a 3-point seatbelt.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident, call Horowitz Injury Law immediately for a free consultation. Brian A. Horowitz has nearly 35 years of successfully navigating cases like these, and getting clients the compensation they deserve. Call 416-925-4100.