By Carl Cormier, Senior Driving Instructor and Safety Consultant for Driving Dynamics
Technology is constantly shaping and changing our world. It is integrated into our daily lives through personal electronic devices, at work, in our homes and also, of course, in our vehicles. Universities are devoting time and resources to studying and developing technology with the hope of educating the driver and ultimately providing a safer vehicle, and we are seeing new and dedicated areas for testing and improvement in the automobile industry.
However, cars have been evolving and adding safety features since the first combustion-engine automobiles were manufactured in the late 1800s. By 1968, all cars were required by law to have seatbelts, and since 1995, all passengers—adults and minors—have been required to wear them. Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) became widespread in the 1970s, and the advent of airbags occurred in the 1980s.
The auto industry is now producing, testing, and using autonomous cars at a rapid pace. The mining industry is currently using autonomous vehicles in Australia. Even construction machinery and equipment companies have developed and are using autonomous vehicles with high rates of success. The desire for self-driving cars has been underwritten by the hope they will save lives by reducing accidents thereby resulting in fewer injuries and deaths than human-driven vehicles and ultimately improving overall safety.
Is there a problem? Are we safer?
• A total of 37,461 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016.
• These deaths occurred in 34,439 crashes involving 52,231 motor vehicles.
• This was a 6 percent increase in deaths compared with 2015 and the highest number of traffic deaths since 2007.
Although the U.S. population has been growing steadily since 1975, the rate of crash deaths per 100,000 population in 2016 is about half of what it was 40 years ago. However, the overall per capita death rate in 2016 increased 5 percent from the rate in 2015.
There is absolutely a problem! Every day we observe drivers behaving erratically, drifting out of their lanes or slowing down for no reason and then suddenly speeding up. We have all witnessed drivers talking on a cell phone or frequently looking down and texting, we watch people driving and walking through parking lots never looking up while on the phone! These behaviors demonstrate a lack of consideration for the people around us.
As technology has become part of our everyday lives we have grown to completely trust and rely on it; for example, opting to e-mail or text instead of making a phone call or visiting someone in person. Trusting technology with our finances; we can now deposit a check with a cell phone and no longer have to go to the bank.
I believe it is this “blind trust” and misunderstood role of the technology in our vehicles that is making the roads more hazardous. We have a myriad of amazing and useful “driver assist” technologies with a generation of drivers who mistakenly believes that these tools will completely protect them.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently published the results of a driver safety study indicating that drivers are now relying too heavily on new vehicle safety technologies in spite of its limitations. According to the report, the misunderstanding and misuse of driver assistance technology could lead to a crash. Brian Tefft, senior researcher for the AAA Foundation, stated, “A substantial proportion of respondents demonstrated what we believe was a concerning lack of awareness of some of the key limitations of the technologies,”
For example, drivers have told me that they do not need to look in their mirrors before an intended lane change because the blind spot monitor did not beep. Why is this a problem? Although the monitor is a great tool, it may not detect motorcycles or very fast moving vehicles, giving the driver false confidence to change lanes without even looking. Also, lane departure warning systems, which help a driver stay in his or her own lane, are a great concept, except when the lane lines are covered or faded, thereby rendering them useless. These are just two examples of how over reliance on technology can get us into trouble.
Make no mistake. The technology works, however, some view these features as accident avoidance systems, expecting the car and its technology to keep them safe, therefore, feeling at ease and easily lured away by other distractions. A driver may falsely believe it is acceptable to use their mobile device―phone, tablet, computer, etc., while driving. This is a very unsafe mindset that sets the driver up for a potentially devastating outcome.
The reality is that most people do not have adequate respect for their cars. I am not referring to an automobile’s level of cleanliness, but rather to how it is viewed. Think of this analogy: You are at a gun range firing a few rounds. Would you even think about holding a cell phone in one hand, sending or reading a text, as you are pulling the trigger with the other hand? It seems crazy that you would operate a deadly weapon while making a phone call. Right? However, this is exactly what we are doing when texting and driving—too often more than willing to pick up a phone while steering. [Understand this example is intended to make a point, it is not a gun control message.]
In addition, drivers can also demonstrate a lack respect for other human beings while on the road. Cars are such an integral part of our lives that we overlook the fact that we can kill people with them if we make a mistake or become distracted. Many take driving for granted because it has become such a consistent and mundane part of life, almost reflexive or second nature; something we do with little to no thought―like breathing.
The combination of insufficient respect for our vehicles along with the mistaken belief that in-car technology will keep us safe, has made driving more hazardous for us all. As a result of all of the built-in technology, drivers can feel a false sense of safety while driving and using their electronic devices. Driving a car is now much easier than it has ever been; therefore, we are less engaged as drivers, making it seem acceptable to use a phone behind the wheel. The bottom line is we still have to actively drive the car and pay attention to the road and everything that is going on around us.
So what should drivers be doing behind the wheel? For starters: Look where you want to go! To be alert and vigilant drivers we must gather information from looking down the road, around the corner and at the lane next to us. We must be aware of what lies in every direction when entering an intersection or a highway. Our eyes should be focused up and not at our devices or directly at the vehicle in front. This is even more important for drivers who are responsible for larger vehicles which are more difficult to stop and maneuver. Because of their greater size and weight there is less time to react and respond to hazards.
As safety professionals, we have to remind drivers of the importance of paying attention while behind the wheel and to remain focused on driving. We have to create the proper culture for driving safely and make drivers aware of what can happen in one quick careless moment! We need to provide better education on what technology can do for us as well as the potential limitations. The University of Iowa has a fantastic online resource for drivers, which provides a simple guide to vehicle safety features available at MyCarDoesWhat.org. This site teaches what icon or warning lights mean and how to use these features the way they were intended.
There are so many safety features that make driving cars and trucks much easier these days. We have back up cameras to aid in parking, cars capable of parallel parking, and even cars that will pull in or back out of your garage without a driver. Yes technology is awesome! We can all be like Dick Tracy and speak into our watches! Maybe soon we can be like The Jetsons as the completely autonomous car makes its way into full public use. But, until we get there we all need to be engaged drivers, paying attention to and respecting our vehicle and other drivers and their vehicles.
Safety & Risk is presented by Driving Dynamics an accomplished provider of impactful driver safety training and risk management services. Continually building and delivering programs based on sound research, proven learning methodologies and expert instruction, we are dedicated to improving drivers’ abilities to stay safe by leveraging risk management tools, principle-based learning and applied techniques. The One Second Advantage™ safety training principle developed by Driving Dynamics is rooted in research that shows 90 percent of all traffic crashes can be avoided when the driver has just one more second to react and knows what to do with that additional second. Driving Dynamics encourages all drivers to Steer Toward Safety™
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