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Drivers Beware! Limitations of Car Safety Systems

Technology like self-driving cars and automated car safety features is quickly becoming the norm. Too often though, drivers fail to recognize the limitations of car safety systems. Even the most advanced technology can’t do everything for you. Failing to understand these limitations puts drivers at a higher risk of having a car accident, even when a vehicle is equipped with the most advanced safety system.

Car Safety Features: From Optional to Standard

When car makers develop new technology, it usually starts out as optional features available on their higher-end trim levels. It’s hard to imagine now, but airbags were non-existent before 1971. Ford Motor Company was the first to offer airbags in this country, introducing their airbag-equipped model on a car that was sold only to government officials. The first vehicle equipped with an airbag that was sold to the public was a high end car in 1973, my freshman year in high school.

It was 20 years ago that federal legislation made airbags mandatory on both sides of the front seat in all cars and light trucks. The newest vehicles sold today go well beyond the legal limit for airbags, often including more in number front and rear seats and on the side. Often, implementing a new safety feature on certain models allows a car maker to “try out” new technology. It’s a way to compare the statistics based on a large number of drivers. If it proves more effective at preventing injuries and saving lives than previous features, it eventually becomes standard. That doesn’t of course mean that the new technology will become required by law.

Seat belts and airbags are both types of safety restraints. They keep passengers from being thrown or crushed when a crash happens. In contrast, most of the modern car safety systems being implemented today are for crash prevention. They help prevent crashes before they happen, so we have fewer injuries and fatalities on our roads.

Modern Safety Features and What They Do

The newer a car is, the more likely it is to have the most advanced technology. New car owners are more prone to the limitations of car safety systems because it’s something that is new to them. Even the name of the feature can be misleading. It isn’t that the technology doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. The problem is that even the most advanced technology can only go so far. They still rely upon the driver’s reaction speed. Consider the following:

Blind-Spot Monitoring – All drivers know that there are blind spots where other vehicles disappear from sight. The information is in the driver’s manual and most course materials used to teach driver’s education. Blind-spot monitoring lets drivers know when a vehicle is in the path before they change lanes and strike it. The problem is that some drivers put all their trust into the system instead of relying on it as a backup. Many don’t even check for other vehicles before they switch lanes. It only takes one mistake to cause the car to crash into another vehicle, a bicycle, or a pedestrian.

Forward-Collision Warning – This safety feature does exactly what its name implies. It warns drivers when there’s something in front of them that could cause a crash. What it doesn’t do is apply the brakes for them. The system works by sensing the object in front of the car and calculating the rate at which it is closing in on it. Once it reaches a specific threshold, the system sends an alert to the driver. When the system works as intended, it can prevent a crash. Even if it doesn’t work perfectly, it can reduce the severity of a crash.

Automatic Emergency Braking – Forward-collision warning alone doesn’t apply the brakes. But when combined with automatic emergency braking, it does. Confusing these two features or assuming that having one means they have the other is one of the most common issues. Drivers need to know the limitations of the car they are driving before they get into a situation that could result in a crash.

Nearly every driver has been in a situation where a minor distraction resulted in an emergency braking situation. It only takes looking away from the road for a second to end up in a dangerous situation. Even if it’s only engaged once during the ownership of the car, it could end up saving lives.

Rear Automatic Emergency Braking – Crashes don’t always happen in forward motion. Every time a driver backs out of a parking space or their own driveway, there’s the potential to hit someone or something. Some vehicles come equipped with rear automatic emergency braking for those situations where backing up could result in a crash.

Adaptive Cruise Control – Cruise control is one of the greatest conveniences drivers have ever known. When driving on the open road, it helps keep drivers from exceeding the speed limit. Since speeding is one of the leading causes of vehicle crashes, driving with cruise control does more than keep drivers from getting a speeding ticket. It also helps save lives.

As convenient as cruise control has always been on the highway, the exception was driving in traffic. Once the driver pushes the brakes, the settings go away, and they have to start all over once they are back on the highway. That is, until adaptive cruise control came along.

Adaptive cruise control differs from traditional cruise in that it uses laser or radar to measure the distance of a vehicle from other vehicles on the road. The car then adjusts the throttle without any input from the driver. Adaptive cruise control is a key component of autonomous driving, but it also stands alone as a safety feature in newer model cars. Failing to recognize the feature’s shortcomings in either situation could result in the driver’s liability for a crash and the damages it causes.

Limitations of these car safety systems depend on whether the vehicle uses laser or radar. Those using laser rely on exposed sensors in the front of the vehicle. During inclement or cloudy weather, the systems don’t work. Although the problem doesn’t exist with radar systems, both types are widely available today. If the driver expects the car to regulate the speed through traffic, they could end up in a crash when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Lane Departure Warning – This feature signals the driver if their car starts to veer out of its driving lane. Different systems use different types of signals including audio sounds, lights on the dashboard, or a vibration in the seat or steering wheel. The system relies on road markings to operate correctly.

A number of conditions can result in the lane departure system not working. For examine, driving on unmarked roads or where there is snow covering them. Fog can also impede the system as can any adverse weather conditions. Turning on the signal light to make a turn overrides the warning system.

This feature addresses crashes resulting from driver error, distracted driving, and fatigue. These are some of the leading causes of crashes. Drivers shouldn’t rely on these systems to compensate for driving under less than optimal conditions. If drivers get behind the wheel when they are too tired to drive, there’s too great a risk that the warning won’t work correctly if they fall asleep while driving.

The dangers of distracted driving are far too great to risk to any safety system. Drivers need to consider the responsibility that comes from being behind the wheel and the potential damage a crash can do.

Assisted Versus Automated: Not the Same Thing

It’s really no surprise that drivers are blind to the limitations of car safety systems. With driverless cars already in operation on the roads, it’s easy to assume that the same technology will take care of itself in the vehicles we drive. But the first thing all drivers need to realize is that the car safety systems in regular cars is assistive. It doesn’t do the driving for us; it just helps make driving safer, easier, or both.

Consider the use of GPS systems in cars. One could argue that they make driving safer by removing the need to use cumbersome paper maps to try and plot the route to any destination. But GPS systems are really more a matter of convenience than safety. They make it easier to find what you’re looking for while keeping your mind on the road and your hands on the wheel.

Still, when it’s time to take the next turn, most GPS systems tell you with a vocal cue. They don’t make the turn for you. That’s how most of the new technology works, too.

The Rise of Distracted Driving

The growth of driving assisted technology has been nothing short of impressive over the past decade. All of these car safety systems are designed to prevent crashes and make driving safer. Yet, the number of distracted driving crashes are also on the rise.

Texting while driving is one of the biggest causes of distracted driving. Although most drivers know that it increases their chances of having a car wreck, many admit to texting while driving regularly!

Even those with voice-enacted Bluetooth technology in their cars often use their cell phones to answer call and text while driving. This is one reason that experts believe the adaptation of semi-autonomous will reduce crashes. Although drivers will still need to take over the wheel part of the time, the automated car systems will continue to operate legally when the driver’s attention is somewhere else. The reason the outcome might not be as positive as the prediction is that people still fail to see the limitations of car safety systems in any situation. If they still perform activities that they know are dangerous now, there’s no guarantee they won’t do the same once the technology becomes commonplace.

Some experts go even further to claim that the technology is the distraction. When the driver doesn’t understand the technology or how to use it correctly, it can distract them from the road. They might set out to test the system and see which situations it responds to and which ones it doesn’t. Some drivers are even distracted when one of the alerts goes off and takes their attention away from their driving. Sometimes the driver ends up in a struggle for control with the vehicle!

How to Get the Most from Your Car’s Safety System

When new car buyers choose a vehicle based on safety, it’s usually based more on the overall safety rating than on the individual features. That means that when they take their new car home, they probably don’t know the full extent of the included safety features.

Drivers should read all the information available to learn which safety features come with their new vehicle. Find out from the dealership what sets these features apart from those of other brands. Although the technology is similar from one brand to the next, there are some differences. Don’t wait until you need them to find out what those differences are.

There’s no end to the information offered on car features online today. Not only is there information about how the newest technology works; there’s also real-life reviews from drivers who have already put it to the test. It’s also a great way to learn the limitations of car safety systems that have already caught other drivers by surprise.

Hope for the Best; Expect the Worst

The newest car safety systems have a place in the safety of the nation’s highways and roads. To make the most of it, drivers need to approach using these features with a dose of realism. The bottom line is that the technology is great when it works. When it doesn’t, it can be deadly.

There’s no way to know all of the limitations of car safety systems. Driving with a ‘hope for the best, expect the worst’ mentality will reduce the impact when a safety system fails. No matter how far technology advances, it’s still up to the driver to follow the laws of the road.

If you are injured due to another driver’s negligence, contact Berenson Injury Law. Schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with a top-rated Texas personal injury attorney.

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