Driver's Seat
Nov/Dec 2008 Issue

New car technologies could be putting drivers at risk

Today many drivers assume they are safe when they purchase or rent a car that has all the “bells and whistles,” like high-intensity lights and navigation systems, but a new study has found that motorists don’t know enough about the new technologies for those bells to ring in greater safety.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety surveyed thousands of AAA members to find out their experience with navigation systems, high-tech headlights, rearview cameras, backing aid sensors and adaptive cruise control (ACC). The study found that motorists rely too much on these technologies and are not fully aware of their capabilities and drawbacks.

What follows are specific limitations associated with these technologies.

Navigation systems

Make sure you know your navigation system’s limitations by reviewing the car’s manual. The most common warnings in owner’s manuals relate to the potential for driver distraction and the need for the driver to not rely only on the voice guidance from the system but to make sure that all maneuvers are made legally and safely.

High intensity lights

Find out what type of headlights your car has. Common types include halogen, High Intensity Discharge (HID), or directionally adaptive. The ability to see greater distances at night with such lights often provides a false sense of security resulting in driving at faster speeds. Brighter HID systems also increase the chance of blinding oncoming drivers.
Backing aid sensors and cameras

Although designed to assist the driver by providing a warning as the vehicle backs slowly toward an object, some common backing scenarios are not helped by the cameras and sensors. Most parking aid systems cannot detect a child directly underneath the bumper. Also, many do not work when backing up at speeds faster than 3 to 6 mph and cannot detect things like a narrow sign post when backing up.

Adaptive cruise control

Although designed to help the driver maintain an established following distance from the vehicle ahead, most adaptive cruise control systems do not detect very slow-moving or stopped vehicles. This means that if you have the ACC on and there is stopped traffic ahead of you, your vehicle may not slow down in time to avoid a collision. Adaptive cruise control is not collision-prevention technology. Drivers still need to pay attention and be ready to use the brakes.

While all of these technologies may be convenient, they are no substitute for checking your mirrors, turning your head to look and being ready to brake at any moment. These innovations assist the engaged driver and do not replace your safe driving habits.

Navigation System
Don’t be distracted by your car’s navigation system and don’t blindly follow its instructions.

DUI fatalities decline nationwide and across the South

More drivers are getting the message that if you drink and drive, you’ll get caught or risk killing someone in a wreck, according to new figures that show a significant decline in drunk driving fatalities across the country, including the South.

Last year, an estimated 12,998 people were killed in crashes where a vehicle operator had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher. That total represents a 3.7 percent decline from the 13,491 fatalities in 2006. In all, 32 states experienced a drop in alcohol-related fatalities, including a number of Southern states. Indeed, Mississippi recorded nearly a 10-percent drop in alcohol-impaired driving deaths, followed by Arkansas (9 percent) and Louisiana (.8 percent).

“But as good as this progress is, in this day and age there is simply no excuse for someone to drink and then drive,” noted U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters.

Despite encouraging news about a decline in DUI fatalities in motor vehicles, the number of such fatalities among motorcyclists climbed in half the states. Overall, alcohol-impaired motorcycle rider fatalities increased by 10 percent in 2007 nationwide, the only category of drivers to show an increase.

Among Southern states with increases in motorcycle fatalities were Arkansas (25 percent) and Louisiana (17 percent). Motorcycle fatalities involving alcohol impairment dropped in Mississippi by 26 percent.

With the holidays approaching, AAA encourages drivers and motorcycle riders who attend parties to make plans to ride home with a sober driver if you plan to drink.


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