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Why Does Motor Vehicle Safety Equipment Make Us Less Safe?

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today’s question comes from a listener who said “you have years of experience involving car crashes and injuries, are you getting the sense that the number of crashes on the highway are going down given all the safety equipment on cars these days?”

Great question.

I think it demands a two-part answer.

For safety systems like airbags and anti-lock brakes, the equipment does not reduce the number of crashes, but most likely reduces the severity of injuries suffered in crashes.

But for safety systems that we might call driver assistance systems, it is not likely that they are really making us safer.

Advanced driver assistance systems are common in many vehicles today.

Such systems are designed to prevent crashes. Fewer crashes is good, right?

But, a recent report from AAA suggests relying on driver assistance systems may lead to higher rates of distracted driving.

What if protective technology is really just leading drivers into a false sense of security? Why look at the road if the car will protect you?

Full automation will remove occupant control. Once a car is driving itself, why even continue to call an occupant a driver?

But in the meantime, before complete automation, there’s still a big safety burden on the driver to control the vehicle and remain situationally aware. That burden on the driver to DRIVE SAFE, is present even though the automation equipment on the vehicle may help.

Data from recent studies indicates that the use of advanced driver assistance systems is associated with a 50% increase in the odds of engaging in a secondary task and an 80% increase in the odds of engaging in visual or manual secondary tasks, compared to the same drivers driving without an automated system.

What does that mean?

Well, if you think your car is going to watch for children running into the street to chase a ball, and that the brakes will come on automatically, then you as the operator reason that it is ok to look down at the weather headlines displaying on the entertainment console.

This holds true for speeding related errors when driver assistance systems are in use.

Drivers actually are more safe in operating a vehicle, when the protective system is turned off.

Again, makes sense, if you have cruise control on and you know the car will automatically slow you down if you get too close to the semi ahead of you, then your brain disengages a little, and safety overall is diminished.

Same with systems designed to alert drowsy drivers. If you have that drowsy alert system, you think you are safe and keep driving instead of pulling over like you did years ago when you sensed yourself getting tired and pulled off the highway to take a nap.

Here is an example. Have you ever had the need to drive a car using a spare tire, or run flat tire? If you know your tire might burst if you are going faster than is safe for the tire, most people will driver extra cautiously. Conversely, if you just replaced a bad set of tires, or gotten new brakes, you likely will feel it is okay to drive faster, and push the limits of your vehicle.

The take away conclusion is that safety systems can erode our attention.

That’s dangerous. Smart car; not so smart human.

It is only going to get worse.

The smarter your car, the less the human operating it will be pay attention. It is human nature.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth”.