Are We Driving Dumber In Smarter Cars?

Man on phone while driving
Credit: State Farm
Drivers with advanced safety tech in their vehicles are taking more risks it seems, according to a new State Farm survey.

State Farm researchers say Americans who drive vehicles equipped with Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) or Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), both advanced driver assist features, admit to using their smartphones while driving at significantly higher rates than those without the latest tech.

  • 42% of drivers with Lane Keeping Assist tech stated they “frequently” or “sometimes” use video chat while driving compared to 20 percent who engaged in the risky behavior without the advanced technology.

While these features have promising safety benefits, the insurance company reminds drivers that they are designed to work in conjunction with engaged driving behaviors.

“Innovations such as Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assist are designed to make our roadways safer,” said Laurel Straub, State Farm Assistant Vice President, Enterprise Research. “These systems are meant to assist drivers, not replace them.”
Among those with or without ACC or LKA, percentage who said they frequently or sometimes engage in this behavior while driving
Smart cars tend to make drivers feel complacent and may lead to distracted driving, according to a new State Farm study. Credit: State Farm.

When will the car drive itself?

Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. The highest level of automation available on the consumer market today is Level Two. At this level, the vehicle can control steering, braking, and accelerating in certain scenarios. Only a subset of new vehicles sold to the general public today are equipped with Level Two features. However, the human driver MUST pay attention at all times and still perform the remainder of the driving. (NHTSA)

Two of those features, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) were explored in the State Farm survey. ACC, in certain situations, enables your vehicle to automatically adjust its speed to maintain a specific distance behind another vehicle. LKA, in certain situations, enables your vehicle to automatically steer within your lane.

“Advances in vehicle technology are occurring rapidly,” Straub continued. “Even with these technologies in place, it’s important for drivers to pay attention when behind the wheel.”

Half of all respondents also said they would be willing to take their eyes off the road for less than five seconds to focus on another task, all while driving on an open highway at 65 mph. At that speed, you can drive the length of a football field in 3.2 seconds. Anything can happen in 100 yards.

The Six Levels Of Autonomous Cars

If you are not aware, there are six levels of self-driving cars before we eventually get to the completely self-driving cars.

The SAE International standard that defines the six levels of driving automation, a standard adopted by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, celebrates its third birthday this month. Odds are the six levels of self-driving cars will become much better known once higher-level self-driving cars are on the market.

  • Level 0 (No automation): This is where the vast majority of cars and trucks are today. The driver handles steering, throttle, and braking (ST&B) monitoring the surroundings, as well as navigating, and determining when to use turn signals, change lanes, and turn. But there can be some warning systems (blind-spot and collision warnings).

  • Level 1 (Driver assistance): Vehicles in this level can handle S or T&B, but not in all circumstances, and the driver must be ready to take over those functions if called upon by the vehicle. That means the driver must remain aware of what the car is doing and be ready to step in if needed.

  • Level 2 (Partial assistance): The car handles ST&B, but immediately lets the driver take over if he detects objects and events the car is not responding to. In these first three levels, the driver is responsible for monitoring the surroundings, traffic, weather, and road conditions. This is where we are today and this is the closest to Level 3 I have driven:

  • Level 3 (Conditional assistance): The car monitors surroundings and takes care of all ST&B in certain environments, such as freeways, but the driver must be ready to intervene if the car requests it.

  • Level 4 (High automation): The car handles ST&B and monitoring the surroundings in a wider range of environments, but not all, such as severe weather. The driver switches on the automatic driving only when it is safe to do so. After that, the driver is not required.

  • Level 5 (Full automation): Driver only has to set the destination and start the car, the car handles all other tasks. The car can drive to any legal destination and make its own decisions on the way.

State Farm offers these 11 tips on how to be as smart as your smart car while you drive:

  1. Do not read or send text messages
  2. Do not update social media
  3. Do not access the internet
  4. Do not talk on the phone unless it's connected to the car audio
  5. Do not check or send emails
  6. Do not take selfies or film videos
  7. Do not enter destinations into GPS while the car is moving
  8. Keep your phone out of reach (glove compartment, purse, etc.). Pull over and park in a safe location if it is necessary to use your phone.
  9. Ask your passenger to make a call or text for you.
  10. Set your phone to send an automatic reply while you are driving.
  11. Do nothing that takes your attention away from your number one task -- driving safely.

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