Many newer vehicle models come equipped with technology that helps drivers navigate, helps them apply the brakes correctly and even lets the car temporarily steer itself if all else fails. But while cars are getting smarter and safer, are drivers keeping up?
The answer is "probably not," according to the latest MetLife American Safety Pulse poll.
While 85 percent of respondents said that cars are safer because of technology like electronic stability control and forward collision sensors, only 29 percent think these technology innovations actually make people safer drivers overall. Meanwhile, 63 percent of those surveyed thought that drivers rely too much on vehicle technology.
Lack of familiarity
The MetLife poll also asked drivers about their familiarity with a slew of vehicle technologies. Although many drivers are familiar with (and feel lost without) their GPS devices, they are less likely to feel that way about safety technologies that work behind the scenes.
The poll shows that 90 percent of respondents were either "very" or "somewhat" familiar with convenience-based technologies like GPS devices. But less than half of them were familiar with safety-based technologies like electronic stability control (42 percent), forward collision warning systems (43 percent) and brake assist (44 percent).
Sometimes, the convenience technology that drivers have embraced can interfere with safety. Take hands-free cellphone technology, for example. According to the MetLife poll, 77 percent of respondents were either very or somewhat familiar with Bluetooth-style accessories. While such accessories can allow you to talk on your cellphone hands-free, the conversation can be just as distracting, according to the poll. In other words, convenience-based technologies are not always compatible with safe driving habits, especially when they give drivers a false sense of safety.
Bargaining with safe driving habits
Survey respondents also said that they were more likely to prioritize convenience over safety when deciding which car to purchase. When asked which features they were looking for in their next car, more than half (63 percent) said they were seeking a car with convenience features like GPS. Meanwhile, just 45 percent said they'd be willing to spring for brake assist, electronic stability control or a forward warning collision system.
What are drivers sacrificing?
Although American drivers are skeptical -- or unaware -- of vehicle safety technology, safety groups say that it has the potential to prevent accidents. And insurers agree. Many auto insurance companies offer safety feature discounts to drivers whose cars have antilock brakes and electronic stability control.
Electronic stability control systems use sensors and a microcomputer to keep track of whether the vehicle is responding to a driver's attempts to steer it. When the vehicle isn't obeying the driver's instructions (such as on an icy road, for example), the system applies the brakes and adjusts engine power to put the car back on the right path.
Electronic stability control was designed to prevent skidding, rollovers and loss of control during emergency maneuvers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). And it works. According to IIHS, electronic stability control reduces fatal single-vehicle crashes by 49 percent and fatal multicar crash risk by 20 percent for cars and SUVs. It also reduces fatal single-vehicle rollovers by 75 percent for SUVs and by 72 percent for cars.
Brake assist, meanwhile, applies extra braking force whenever a very sudden stop is needed, according to Edmunds.com, while forward collision warning technology warns drivers via visual or auditory cues that a crash is imminent. Although these features once were available only on luxury cars, they are starting to become more common on less expensive vehicles, according to Edmunds.