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How New Technologies May Pose New and Unique Distracted Driving Challenges

Distracted driving is one of the most common causes of accidents. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) counted 3,522 fatalities in 2021 due to distracted driving

Distracted driving is usually associated with cell phones, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines it as “doing another activity that takes the driver’s attention away from driving.” Eating, tuning a radio, reading a map, or looking for something that fell on the floor can qualify as distracted driving. 

Some new technology — such as driver user interfaces — makes it easier to glance away from the road for a few seconds. Some drivers with accident avoidance features in their cars may feel comfortable looking away because they think the system will control the car for them (which may or may not be the case). 

The distractions and misplaced trust in technology can lead to new risks for drivers. Here is a look at the dangers these new systems pose and the steps drivers can take to address new perils and be aware of other drivers misusing technology behind the wheel.

Understanding the Risks of New Technologies 

Around 90% of new vehicles currently have automatic braking systems, and the federal government has approved a law requiring the technology on all new cars. This is one of the first instances of driver assistance features becoming mandatory. However, other technology, like lane-keeping assistance and blind-spot monitoring, may make a driver overconfident in their car’s ability to avoid collisions.

Up to 53% of drivers treat vehicles with driver assistance systems as fully self-driving, even though they are not. Even with automated systems on an increasing number of cars, the U.S. has seen a 5.4% rise in fatal distracted driving crashes since 2011. 

Here’s a look at the most common driver assistance technologies in new cars and the dangers they pose on the road. 

Advanced Driver-Assistance

Many vehicles have some driver assistance systems standard, while others offer them in optional advanced safety packages. This technology relies on cameras, radar, and other sensors to detect obstacles. The vehicle’s onboard control system gets data from these devices and uses it to send alerts and stop or steer the car if needed. 

Here are the most common examples of this technology. 

  • Blind-spot monitoring; 
  • Lane-keeping assist;
  • Rear cross-path detection;
  • Automatic emergency braking;
  • Adaptive cruise control. 

While you can take steps to remain attentive on the road and not rely on these systems too much, other drivers may not. If you experience a common incident, like a rear-end accident, you can seek legal help to get a settlement. 

More serious collisions, like a T-bone accident, could require a settlement that covers lost wages and medical care in addition to vehicle damage. A lawyer can use evidence to prove that a distracted driver was negligent. Negligence extends to relying on autonomous systems that don’t provide 100% protection against accidents. 

Here is a look at each of the most common systems and the dangers associated with them. 

Automatic Emergency Braking

Automatic emergency braking can help drivers avoid accidents or limit damage from an impact by slowing the car down before it hits another vehicle. 

These systems can detect other vehicles, send alerts, and stop your car if you fail to respond. However, the onboard computer uses sensor data to make decisions and cannot understand the nuances of a specific situation. 

For instance, if a vehicle is following behind you, slamming on the brakes to avoid a car in front of you could cause a rear-end accident. Changing lanes or moving onto the shoulder to slow down could be a safer option.

One study by the Partnership for Analytics Research in Traffic Safety and the NHTSA found that automatic emergency braking decreased front-to-rear crashes by 49%. While this is an impressive figure, it also shows that the systems did not respond in every situation. 

Front-to-rear crash cases often involve whiplash or back injuries. More serious impacts could lead to concussions or head injuries. In many such accidents, the driver in the back is liable for the accident, even if their automatic braking system fails to function. A good lawyer will be able to argue your case and get compensation. 

Mobile Apps and Digital Keys

Mobile apps can play music, offer directions, or provide weather updates while you are on the road. Cars often have digital interfaces with their apps and the option to connect a smartphone for additional functionality. 

Many interfaces have controls on the wheel or voice-activated app navigation. These features allow the driver to activate features or adjust controls without taking their hands off the wheel. 

While the driver still has their hands on the wheel, they may need to look at the screen or at least take their mind off driving to focus on pushing the correct buttons or saying the correct words. 

Even at low speeds in residential areas, a moment of inattention could lead to a collision with a pedestrian, bicycle, or even a commercial vehicle that stops suddenly to make a delivery. If you are on the receiving end of this type of accident, a lawyer may be able to collect evidence related to activity on the vehicle’s infotainment screen to see if the driver was using it at the time of the accident. 

Wireless Smartphone Connectivity

Many new cars feature systems like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These allow phones to connect to the infotainment interface wirelessly. 

With wireless connections, drivers can use the car’s voice or steering wheel controls to interface with their phone and use its functions. This feature is quite common. The National Safety Council points out that the number of drivers using hand-held cell phones has fallen since 2011, but the percentage of drivers who manipulated devices while on the road increased by 127% from 2012 to 2021. 

Even with voice or steering wheel controls, manipulating a phone requires concentration and can take the driver’s mind off the road. 

Steps To Lessen the Risk of Distracted Driving With New Technologies 

You can take two steps to reduce the risk of distracted driving while on the road. The first is to understand which technologies are causing or enabling distractions, and the second is to limit the use of or reliance on these tools while driving. 

Here are four different ways to ensure you remain attentive while driving. 

Stay Alert and Focused 

You can stay alert by putting down all devices and remaining intent on the road. However, this state of mind also involves warding off fatigue and other distractions, such as daydreams or emotions. 

Limit Use of Mobile Apps While Driving

Mobile devices can still cause distraction, even when operated on a hands-free interface. As NHTSA and NCS data shows, distracted driving incidents are rising despite fewer people holding cell phones while driving. 

To avoid this potential danger, you can limit use while driving. You might let a passenger select the music or enter an address in the navigation app. If you are alone, enable the maps application or start playing music while parked, and don’t change it until you reach your destination. 

Pay Attention to the Road 

Attentive driving can reduce the risk of accidents. If you remain focused, you can spot potential dangers before they occur. You will be prepared for a car to abruptly change lanes or a vehicle to suddenly slow down in front of you when it encounters traffic. 

Automatic safety systems will not react until the car stops or swerves in front of you. However, if you are paying attention to the road, you will already have reacted by the time the radar sensors detect a problem. 

Read and Understand All Technology Manuals 

It can be helpful to understand how the car’s systems work for two reasons. First, you can grasp what the safety systems can do and what they cannot. With this info, you will know when you can rely on these tools and how reliable they are at preventing accidents. 

Second, if you understand interfaces like the navigation screen, you can control them while keeping your eyes on the road without getting distracted. 

When To Seek Help After a Car Accident 

After you’re involved in a car accident, you should always get in touch with your insurance company, law enforcement, and potentially, a lawyer.

Accidents can still occur regardless of your best efforts. Even if you’re a safe and attentive driver, someone else could make a mistake or get distracted. When this happens, the at-fault party or their insurer will have to cover damages, depending on your state’s laws. 

A lawyer can negotiate on your behalf or file a lawsuit seeking compensation. Though the case could go to a civil court, the lawyer may also pursue a settlement with the other party and their lawyer to cover repairs, medical costs, lost wages, and other damages.