Effect of advanced driver-assistance systems on modern drivers

You have probably heard of the advanced driver-assist system by now. ADAS, for short, is the latest automotive electronic tech that helps modern vehicles drive and park, among other things. If nothing rings a bell, here are some ADAS examples, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, driver drowsiness detection, lane change assistance, etc. You may have also encountered it under a proprietary name like Toyota Safety Sense (TSS), Intelligent Driver Assistance System (IDAS used by Isuzu in Australia), EyeSight (used by Subaru), and Honda Sensing.

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Most motorists welcome ADAS, this writer included. But some grimace at the mere mention of ‘park assist’ as they opine that it, along with other advanced features, simply make drivers stupid.

Here is an educational moment. ADAS is not just cutting-edge stuff like collision avoidance, automatic parking, or pedestrian protection. Even your trusty old ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), which turns 93-years old this year, falls under that category.

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All kinds of ADAS use sensors like cameras and radar for detection. The data gathered is analyzed by a program run by the vehicle’s computer. Its operation will vary from simple to complex, but all do one thing, improve vehicle safety.

ADAS protects you and the vehicle - that we have established. Some even lookout for pedestrians and cyclists. Its job description is succinct, and its purpose is noble, but why is it getting a bad rap from purists?

What’s wrong with something so inherently good?

The chief complaint against ADAS is that it takes away vital core driving skills like staying in your lane and checking the side-view mirror. These are things motorists need to master as they learn to drive and then perform with a high level of consistency every time they are behind the wheel.

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Several studies show that drivers are becoming complacent to the point that they are allowing themselves to be distracted by things like SMS, YouTube videos, and Facebook posts.

According to a 2019 report by the non-profit group AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers who use ADAS were twice more likely to engage in distracted driving while using the system. “Over-reliance on these systems can put drivers and others in dangerous conditions during critical moments,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

US insurance firm State Farm's survey shows that of all the drivers who use ACC and lane departure assist, 62% say they will read and send text messages, more than 52% will have the guts to manually enter a phone number on their mobile, and at least 60% will hold their phone while talking.

Then there is the Yerkes-Dodson Law that states the relationship between performance and mental motivation is directly proportional. When the latter goes up, so does the former. It means that a certain amount of stimulation/challenge is required for drivers to reach the proper level of engagement and concentration. Carelessness kicks in when ADAS takes over stuff like watching for road markings and speed adjustments.

What skills does ADAS affect?

A driver must have steering and speed control, turning/reversing/parking proficiency, and knowledge of traffic signs and signals. The LTO practical exam determines that. Testing in other countries is more rigorous as it tackles merging, overtaking, driver courtesy, etc.

ADAS was invented to eliminate road accidents due to human error, but does it innocently automate some of these fundamental skills? Here are some samples:

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Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) automatically brakes/slows down or accelerates to maintain the speed and distance from the vehicle ahead of it based on parameters set by the driver. All you need to do is steer.

Lane Centering (LC) even takes over steering to ensure that the vehicle stays in the same lane during the drive.

Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) constantly scans the road ahead during the drive. When the system senses that a collision is imminent, it engages the brakes to bring the vehicle to an immediate stop.

Ford’s Active Park Assist (APA) takes all guesswork from parallel parking. It even scans the curb for the perfect spot as you drive by. This feature is the one giving orders, and all the driver needs to do is follow the prompts to slide into the slot perfectly.

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If you look at what those features do, this is what happens in a nutshell. ACC takes over speed control on the highway; LC steers the vehicle by itself; AEB steps on the brakes; APA parks it for you. In essence, and the right situation, these ADAS will do all the work for the driver.

What do the numbers say?

Blind-spot monitoring is the one ADAS that has taken a lot of flak. Critics say it untrains drivers from using the side-view mirror by making them over-rely on the tech that checks for vehicles on the adjacent lane. But, a 2020 study by non-profit org Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that lane-change accidents of models with this feature are 14% lower than units without it and injuries related to this mishap decreased by 23%.

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The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says driver error causes 94% of all crashes and with several of these ADAS, the number of accidents has gone down tremendously. Take a look.

         Forward Collision Warning with auto brake

                  Front-to-rear crashes are 50% lower

         Lane Departure Warning

                  Single-vehicle, sideswipe, and head-on crashes are 11% lower

         Rear Automatic Braking

                  Backing crashes are 78% lower

Global data and analytics company LexisNexis Risk Solutions also adds that insurance claims for bodily injury and property damage of vehicles with ADAS are down 27% and 19%.

That is just the here and now. Swiss Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, estimates that ADAS has the potential to reduce the number of motor accidents in the future by 25%, which in turn will help slash auto insurance premiums by a whopping US$ 20 billion.

Dumb or dumber?

This survey says one thing, that one says another.

What is for certain is that we’re much safer with smarter cars. The big question is, does it really make drivers dumber?

Getting the honest answer will take a little bit of soul-searching. Maybe these Rotary Club-type questions will help:

-Do you take your eyes off the road to read an SMS because you know the radar is looking out for you?

-Do you carelessly reverse from your parking slot because you rely on ‘cross-traffic alert’?

-Do you allow yourself to drive distracted often because you know ADAS is there?

If you answer yes to any of the questions, your driver’s IQ just dropped several notches.

Technology breaks down eventually. It happens with your computer at home, at the office, so we are sure it will happen to your car as well. Keep that in mind so you are always alert and focused on the drive.

Remember, just because you drive a smart car does not give you an excuse to act stupid.