Are Driver Aids Eroding Driver Skills?

Carmakers fret that the driving aids they are introducing to improve traffic safety also will make human drivers less skilled when they’re in control of their cars, Bloomberg reports.

The challenge is that motorists may put too much trust in features such as blind spot warnings and stop using their own eyes to check for surrounding traffic. Trouble could arise if the system fails, or when the driver either hops into a car that lacks the technology or takes the wheel of model with a blind spot system that functions differently.

Mark Wakefield, who heads the automotive practice of consultants AlixPartners LLP, tells Bloomberg that the auto industry is “terrified” about such unintended consequences.

The issue is critical to resolve as carmakers transition from do-it-yourself cars to vehicles that can automatically drive themselves virtually anywhere. Riders in fully self-driving vehicles will be able to safety abandon any attention to the road. But not so for the myriad semi-autonomous models being rolled out over the next five years.

Consumers, says Greg Brannon, who heads automotive engineering for AAA, “don’t have any idea of how these systems work because they’re all named something different and they all function differently.”

An informal Bloomberg poll in July found 57% of respondents agreeing that driver-assist devices will erode motoring skills. A study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute confirmed that drivers whose cars have blind spot monitors gradually stop looking over their shoulders to check for traffic when changing lanes.