Unintended consequences of safety technology
Many advanced technologies can reduce the number of lives lost on U.S. roads, but full or partial automation is not a silver bullet for safety, David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said in a virtual Capitol Hill briefing March 7.
“We firmly believe in technology for vehicle safety and the potential it has to reduce the tragic toll on our roadways,” Harkey said. “We do not believe in the promise of technology to completely replace drivers and for the vehicle to assume all responsibility for vehicle operations.”
IIHS research has shown that forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB) slash rear-end vehicle-to-vehicle crashes by 27% and 50%, respectively, Harkey said. Similarly, AEB systems that can recognize and brake to avoid people reduce pedestrian crashes by 27%.
However, crash data have not shown similar benefits for the Level 2 partial automation systems that are currently on the market. On the contrary, IIHS research has shown that at least some designs may be adding to the danger on the road by lulling drivers into complacency behind the wheel. Drivers fidget with electronics and take both hands off the wheel more often as they develop trust in automated systems, new research from the IIHS and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab shows.
These systems can control the vehicle’s speed and steering. But they’re not now and may never be able to handle every situation that arises, so the driver must remain focused and ready to always take over. Unfortunately, human nature and the designs themselves make that extremely difficult.
“In observational studies, we have found that drivers using these systems tend to drive faster, look away from the road more frequently and for longer periods of time, and engage in more distracting behaviors,” Harkey said.
When drivers rely on safety technology by disengaging from the task of driving, even slightly, it counter-acts the extra safety offered by the technology. This is an unintended consequence of the new safety features. The result of this complacency and inattention can sometimes be tragic. And it does not help to convey misinformation to consumers using names such as Autopilot and Full Self Driving, says Harkey.
I remember when antilock brakes became standard on all vehicles. Some drivers drove faster, even on slippery roads, counting on the antilock brakes to keep them from dangerous situations. In other words, poor driving countered the extra safety of the antilock brakes, an unintended consequence of the technology.
The IIHS firmly believes in technology for vehicle safety and the potential that it has to reduce the tragic toll on our roadways. But Harkey wants to be clear about where we see the greatest benefits for vehicle safety technology. We support the continued evolution of technology to assist drivers in the driving task. We believe it is critical for the driver to remain always engaged in the driving task and always be responsible for all actions of the vehicle. We do not believe in the promise of technology to completely replace drivers and for the vehicle to assume all responsibility for vehicle operations.