Safety tech may lull drivers into distraction

ATLANTA — Those fancy safety features in your car may have lulled you into not paying attention behind the wheel.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which looked at the impact of adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and other technologies.

Such technologies are proliferating as automakers seek to lure customers with new safety features. Adaptive cruise control, for example, automatically adjusts your vehicle’s speed to keep it a safe distance from vehicles in front of you. And lane-keeping assist warns drivers when they drift out of their lane.

Researchers with the AAA Foundation and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute analyzed video of on-road behaviors for two groups. The first group was people who owned a vehicle equipped with various “advanced driver assistance systems” and had more experience with them. Motorists in the second group had less experience with the technology, but they were given a vehicle equipped with it to use for four weeks.

Researchers found the drivers who were more familiar with the technology were more likely to drive distracted when the safety systems were active. For example, they were more likely to text while driving or adjust the radio.

Drivers with less experience with the technology were more likely to remain alert.

The researchers believe drivers who aren’t yet accustomed to the features are less inclined to trust them, so they remain alert. But as they become acclimated to the technology, they’re more likely to take their eyes off the road.

“Advanced driver assistance technologies have a lot to offer in terms of comfort and safety, but they should never replace an attentive and engaged driver,” said William Van Tassel, AAA manager of driver training programs.

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