Car and truck manufacturers throughout the world have made a big push to implement high-tech features – such as voice-activated GPS, hands-free phone service and cruise control – designed to prevent car accidents and keep passengers safe from injury or death. But as can be the case with all technology in general, it often takes time for us to truly realize the benefits and drawbacks of these “safety features” and how they affect individual users differently.
In a recent study conducted by researchers in Europe, however, it was discovered that some of these safety features that are designed to make driving both easier and safer for drivers can also contribute to driver distraction, and therefore increase the chances that a driver or passenger is injured in a motor vehicle collision.
Details of Cruise Control Analysis
The study, which was funded and overseen by the Vinci Autoroutes Foundation, monitored 90 French drivers who were divided into three age groups before participating in a driving simulator for several days.
The researchers found that when they instructed the test subjects to utilize the cruise control setting on their vehicles, drivers in all three age groups showed signs of being drowsy and delayed reaction times when it came to applying the brake. Most notably, the drivers in the youngest age group of 18 to 30 years old were primarily affected by symptoms of fatigue.
From the moment the drivers began using the cruise control feature until the end of the simulation, the researchers noticed that all drivers progressively applied the brakes late, which would increase the chances of a car accident in a real driving scenario. By the end of the simulation, some drivers were applying the brakes 85 yards later than would have been appropriate.
Measuring Driver Fatigue and Distraction
The study’s lead researchers asked each individual participant to report their perceived level of alertness every 15 minutes. Researchers found that the drivers’ level of alertness dropped significantly just 30 minutes after being asked to utilize the cruise control feature. Researchers also noted that this finding was especially consistent among the younger drivers in the group.
So how could a feature that is designed to make the process of driving long distances easier and safer actually have the reverse effect? Some experts, including Seattle attorney Chris Davis, say that allowing the vehicle to control speed for a long period of time allows drivers to tune out and causes them to lose focus on regular driving tasks.
“Cruise control makes driving somewhat monotonous for many people, and the monotony can cause drivers to get bored and lose focus on the task at hand,” says Davis, who founded Seattle-based Davis Law Group, P.S., in 1994. “While the idea behind these features may be to make things easier for the driver, the reality is that it can put them at risk of being severely injured in a car accident.”
Speaking to the everyday utilization of cruise control and other vehicle safety features, Davis added that these types of studies don’t necessarily mean that drivers should avoid using features that could make driving easier.
“It just means drivers need to understand how to use these features and when they can help, as well as when they might not help.”