Survey finds automotive technology not reducing distracted driving

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In a few cases, it might be making it worse

A survey of drivers by Esurance finds in-car technology features designed to promote safety aren't reducing distracted driving. In fact, in some cases it may contribute to it.

The company says the survey revealed two key pieces of data. First, most drivers are aware that using phones and GPS while driving is distracting. Second, they're willing to do it anyway. Fifty-eight percent of drivers admitted to some level of distracted driving, in many cases texting or navigating while driving.

Stephanie Braun, director of the connected car department at Esurance, says drivers are finding the lure of technology features in their vehicles hard to ignore.

"We're seeing more automakers try to address the issue of distracted driving through semi-autonomous features, but we're also mindful of the fact that some of these features could distract drivers even more and often give drivers a false sense of security," Braun said.

Technology to assist the driver

In the last decade, many carmakers have added semi-autonomous technology features to their vehicles that can do some of the driving. In some cases, these features can recognize and respond to impending road hazards before the driver can.

While nearly half the drivers in the survey who have these features believe they are a good thing, about 10 percent believe they are not. The survey found that 25 percent of drivers who purchased new cars with this technology in mind later disabled at least one feature.

The survey actually found that drivers with cars equipped with the latest technology safety features tend to be slightly more distracted than drivers without it. Nearly a third complained that the warning sounds the features make are themselves a distraction.

Limits of driver-assist technology

As the industry moves toward fully autonomous vehicles, some cars available today have what are known as “driver-assist” features. In May 2016, the driver of a Tesla Model S was killed when his car slammed into a truck.

An investigation revealed the car was in autopilot mode at the time of the accident, but that the driver was distracted and not in control of the vehicle at the time of the accident.

Tesla has stressed that its autopilot feature is not meant to be used to fully control the car and that drivers should remain alert and keep both hands on the wheel.

The auto industry is proceeding at full speed toward development of fully autonomous vehicles, but the Esurance survey finds today's drivers aren't that enthusiastic. It found only 17 percent of drivers would be willing to give up control of the vehicle in order to engage in other activities behind the wheel.

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