Drivers admit to bad habits that can make them less attentive behind the wheel and prone to accidents but they welcome technology that makes them more aware of their surroundings, a new survey released Tuesday shows.
The study by Penn Schoen Berland, commissioned by Ford, surveyed 2,506 U.S. drivers in May and found 99% think they’re good drivers, even though 76% eat or drink behind the wheel, 55% speed, 53% talk on a handheld phone, 37% drive when they’re too tired, and 25% will pick up their phone and search contacts.
“People are saying they are safe drivers, but they are engaging in other things while behind the wheel,” said Billy Mann, managing director of Penn Schoen Berland.
The result: 57% have had an accident or close call with someone in their blind spot, 48% hit or almost hit something backing out of a parking lot and 38% avoid parallel parking, Mann said.
Ford, as do many of its competitors, has technology to address many of these areas, but the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker was surprised to learn that even though it has offered driver-assist systems for years, less than a third of respondents were aware of features such as those directed at teens that limit the car’s top speed and block incoming calls and texts.
“I think we need to communicate better,” said Amy Marentic, Ford group marketing manager. Ford also is stepping up dealer training and encouraging dealers to spend more time with customers pairing their phones and teaching them how to use features before driving away.
“People are spending more time in their vehicles and have a sense of time poverty: not enough hours in the day so they are doing more multitasking,” said Sheryl Connelly, manager of global trends and futuring. The technology also helps an aging population with reduced vision and response time.
The survey found drivers want systems that alert them of a car in their blind spot or behind them in a parking spot or that makes the steering wheel vibrate when they drift out of a lane and illuminates a coffee cup icon on the dash when they stray too often, suggesting a drowsy driver needing a break.
That was good news for Ford as it prepares to sell the all-new 2013 Fusion with the most driver-assist technologies in a Ford vehicle to date, said Marentic.
Ford has nearly 30,000 orders for the new Fusion, which goes on sale next month with an advertising campaign in October.
Marentic said she expected about 15% of buyers would opt for the top Titanium trim level with all the features and was surprised to see almost 25% chose the high-end model. About 15% opted for lane-departure warning in an optional package with blind-spot warning and a few other goodies for an extra $1,000.
Marentic said the amount of technology in the Fusion for a midsize non-luxury car was a conscious decision to beat the competition in a high-volume competitive segment.
“Customers are downsizing but not willing to compromise when it comes to technology,” she said, even on a $25,000 car.
Ford is keeping cost down by leveraging its scale, said Randy Visintainer, director of Ford research and innovation.
The automaker is leveraging its assorted sensors and systems to derive more benefits from them, while also enjoying the economies of scale of having global vehicles, Visintainer said. He said there is still room for Lincoln vehicles to offer more sophisticated versions of some of that technology to distinguish Ford from the luxury brand.
As for technology that enables a vehicle to drive itself, more than half those surveyed were intrigued, but 59% said they would not feel comfortable riding in a car that drives itself.
In the interim, Ford’s goal in offering all this technology: “To encourage people to take a second look at our products,” Marentic said.