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Safety tech linked to riskier driving habits, research finds

April 23, 2021

A Pittsburgh parking lot is full of Uber self-driving Volvos. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found some risky behaviours in a study of about 2,000 drivers behind the wheel of self-driving vehicles. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


Here is some interesting and surprising driving information gathered by Dr. Bill Van Tassel of the AAA Foundation.

We have all heard about self-driving cars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found some odd behaviours in about 2,000 drivers behind the wheel of these vehicles. Four per cent took a nap while behind the wheel, as the car barrelled down the freeway. An equal percentage watched a movie while doing the same. Eleven per cent engaged in texting. Twenty-five per cent talked on the phone and 33 per cent did not keep their hands on the steering wheel.

None of these behaviours are acceptable. There is a long way to go before autonomous vehicles are to be the order of the day on our roads. Their acceptance will come, no doubt, but under controlled circumstances in wired parts of inner-city and highway travel. Even now, there are highway convoys of up to five transport trucks, with only the lead and last truck piloted, in special circumstances in the USA.

Technology dedicated to reducing crashes has been embraced by all automakers. Dr. Bill is ecstatic when these new initiatives reduce the crash rate by a paltry five per cent. There are advances coming which are projected to reduce crashes by 40 per cent, injuries by 33 per cent and deaths by 30 per cent. Mercedes alone is committed to spend $9 billion on research and development. This investment will go well beyond the past advances involving anti-lock brakes, airbags and braking sensors.

Some of the research has had surprising results.

German taxi drivers were divided into two groups. Half had ABS and the others not. The study lasted three years. The results shocked Dr. Bill. The drivers with ABS overdrove their ability. The evaluators were equally shocked with this result. The ABS drivers had riskier behaviours compared to the others with no such technology.

The same thing happened in the Virginia Tech adaptive cruise and lane monitoring study. More risky behaviours occurred, such as cellphone use. There are three recognizable behavioural phases related to the introduction of various technological advances among drivers. There is little to no trust in these advances when first experienced by the drivers in the involved groups. The post-novelty phase has the drivers fully aware and results in an increase in safety behind the wheel. The strangest thing happened when drivers became comfortable with the above technology. They regularly overdrove their abilities. This whole process of introducing new technology, to reduce highway mayhem, is more complicated than first thought.

The American Automobile Association conducted the same type of study using Cadillacs, and the results were similar. There were 90 participants. There was one striking observation. When the company called the technology “Autonodrive” the same observations were witnessed as in the Mercedes study. But here is a dramatic observation. When the same system was offered under the same circumstances and called “Driveassist”, the behaviours were safer and better. Which begs the question: Does the name of the newly introduced technology make a difference? In this case, apparently!

There was a study of teen behaviour on a performance racetrack in the USA. Teens were asked to drive the track at what they judged to be a safe speed. They performed well. They were then asked to do again. This time they were permitted to have several of their friends witness their relative expertise. You guessed it. They performed miserably. All they needed was an audience to underperform. They hit pylons and some lost control in sharp turns. The presence of their peer group got the better of them. This is probably the reason new drivers in B.C. are permitted to have only one other person in the vehicle, who is not a blood relative, while in the new driver phase.

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