10th Jul, 2020 Read time 6 minutes

Does tech improve driver safety or hinder it?

Technology has come along leaps and bounds over recent years, significantly altering the way we live in many ways both good and bad. In terms of driver safety, people always as the question “Is technology making driving safer, or is it hindering our ability to drive safely without distraction?”

Of course, technology in cars has made driving a lot better in many ways from making cars more comfortable to making cars safer.  For example, if you are driving in, or being followed by, a car that can automatically apply the brakes and save you from a display of human error then this is clearly a good thing.

But in contrast, many of the car companies’ new technologies are still in their painful teething stages. Indeed, some of the things designed to make our lives easier actually make them harder and put us at risk of them being shortened.

We’ve highlighted some of the ways that technology has advanced when it comes to driving, but this still begs the question as to whether tech actually helps us at the wheel or hinders us.


1. Active Safety Systems

ABS was the first of these systems, but this is far from modern now. However, the improvements that have followed it have taken the idea of active safety systems, that will prevent you from having an accident rather than protect you once it has happened, to great levels.

Arguably one of the latest and greatest of these types of systems Auto Emergency Braking (AEB). Even if you think you’d never need it, you’ll eventually find a moment where, possibly through some form of distraction from another software, the AEB cuts in and starts braking for you.

While the system is fabulous, it is not always flawless, and different car companies do it in different ways. False positives are sometimes a possibility with automatic braking systems and can cause cars to sound an alarm or slam on the brakes when there is actually no danger present. In many vehicles you can actually adjust the harshness of the system, basically setting how soon you want it to kick in for you, or how far from the vehicle in front, but a lot of people don’t want that hassle.  Whilst AEB might have the occasional bug, but it is worth it even if it only saves you once a year.


2. Cruise Control

Cruise control has been a popular technology since the 1960s, but it’s gotten a whole lot cleverer in the advancement of tech. Modern ‘active’ systems use radars and cameras to measure the distance to the car in front and will slow you down and accelerate as needed.

The idea is that cruise control takes out an element of the tediousness of driving, but it also saves fuel. In its essence cruise control helps drivers stick at a consistent speed and can make the journey safer in the case of the more modern systems.

Audi’s ‘Traffic Jam Assist’ can also take over the steering for you up to a certain speed, as long as the road is smooth and the traffic is not heavy.

Other companies have similar semi-autonomous systems, which use cameras to read road markings. Whilst all this tech is great and can be a win for safety, they are far from infallible yet. Some systems may suddenly follow an exit line on the road, swerving the car somewhere you don’t want to go or are hypersensitive to movements around the car.


3. Head-up Displays

Many will agree that these systems simply make life better, and safer. They use clever mirrors and graphic displays to offer a head-up display that makes your speedometer and even your sat-nav instructions appear float in front of you.

Essentially, this means you never need to look at the dashboard again and you can still see through your speed to the road ahead. This makes it both useful and a plus for safety, so it’s one that many drivers aren’t too against.


4. Touchscreens and Entertainment Systems

In modern cars, touchscreens can be used to do everything from get directions to somewhere to control performance settings. This means drivers are going to spend a lot of time looking at the touchscreens, and if they are doing that then they are not looking at the road.

Although many car manufacturers disable some of their functionality at speed, there is still a whole lot that you can fiddle around with whilst driving still. Drivers have always had to stab at buttons to change the radio station or turn up the air con but modern touchscreens can become addictive and a little too immersive to be a safer addition.

In terms of Android and Apple CarPlay features, these are incredibly convenient and are a bid to stop drivers from even considering to touch their phones. These systems have the ability to read you your text messages, and allow you to dictate replies, without ever looking at your phone, or taking your eyes off the road. Yet there is still an element of distraction there, and as the dictation can sometimes be wrong there is always some temptation to quickly reply manually.


Are cars really any safer with all of this tech?

Whilst it’s obvious that enabling drivers to have systems that stop them from being tempted to use their mobile phone or having to get distracted looking at the dashboard or having to press buttons to make calls or change radio station is a good idea, the fact of the matter is that adding lots of bells and whistles to cars will often come with a risk.

Are these seemingly time and effort saving additions are luring us into a false sense of security.  Scientific research confirms that multitasking is impossible; this applies whether you’re using your phone or trying to speak to your infotainment system to get it to call your mum, as you’re still using your brain to carry out the task.

The European Parliament has said that intelligent speed assistance and alerts for when you get distracted or drowsy should be fitted to all new cars from 2022, and this is one piece of tech that is a great invention. However, even if your vehicle does have ABS, parking-assist, reversing sensors and lane-keeping technology which are all in the pursuit of safety, these are all just extra things that might distract us when we are on the road.

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