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AAA study highlights the limitations of hi-tech safety systems

Dealer showrooms in Montana and around the country are filled with cars that boast an impressive array of safety features, but some of the most advanced automobile technology could actually be contributing to accidents according to a study conducted recently by the American Automobile Association and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The association's Foundation for Traffic Safety wanted to find out how adaptive cruise control and lane departure assist systems influenced driver behavior, so researchers watched videos of people behind the wheels of cars such as the Honda Accord, Tesla Model S and Acura MDX.

What they discovered raises questions about the unintended consequences of deploying semiautonomous technology without properly educating the public. The researchers found that drivers became distracted about twice as often when they engaged these systems, which suggests that motorists overestimate the capabilities of the latest car technology. The AAA and Virginia Tech researchers behind the study are not calling on auto manufacturers to withdraw features like adaptive cruise control and lane assist, but they do believe carmakers should stress the limitations of the technology as well as its benefits.

A 2017 study also linked emerging vehicle technology with worrying levels of distraction. After watching drivers use 30 touch-screen infotainment systems, University of Utah researchers determined that more than three-quarters of the systems were either highly distracting or extremely distracting. The remaining systems were considered moderately distracting.

Drivers who crash because they were not paying attention are rarely prosecuted because proving distraction beyond reasonable doubt is very difficult, but the standard of proof is not as strict in civil court. To prevail in lawsuits brought on behalf of motor vehicle accident victims, experienced personal injury attorneys must make arguments that juries believe are more likely true than false. This might be accomplished in distracted driving cases by producing wireless service records that reveal drivers were using cellphones when they crashed or showing juries electronic information taken from car data recorders that indicates no evasive action was taken to avoid an accident.

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