From The Editor | December 20, 2023

Are Today's Cars Too Annoying To Be Safe

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By John Oncea, Editor


According to some experts, high-tech vehicles may not be worth the trouble. Repair costs are higher, they're more difficult to understand and operate, and they can be more likely to cause driver distraction and disengagement.

Anybody who ever took their kids on a long car ride has to be familiar with how annoying such an experience can be, no matter how much we love the little sweethearts. Heck, I’m willing to bet some of us have even been the annoying kids in the backseat!

For example:

Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Homer: No.
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Homer: No!
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Homer: I said no!
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Homer: What's wrong with your ears?
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Homer: Look out the window!
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Homer: We're not there!
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Homer: Okay. We're there. Finally.
Bart and Lisa, sleeping while playing a tape recorder: Are we there yet?
Homer: Huh?
Bart and Lisa, sleeping while playing a tape recorder: Are we there yet?
Bart and Lisa, sleeping while playing a tape recorder: Are we there yet?
Bart and Lisa, sleeping while playing a tape recorder: Are we there yet?
Homer: Damn technology!
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Homer: Turn it off!
Bart: We did.
Lisa: This is us.
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Bart and Lisa: Are we there yet?
Homer: (anguished scream)
Bart and Lisa: (laughter)
Homer, finally there: Ooh, a spot.

But it’s not only children that are annoying drivers. According to one of the world’s leading experts on crash avoidance, cutting-edge features designed to keep drivers safe on the road are not having the desired effect because it is – you guessed it – too annoying.

Two In Five Drivers Disable Safety Features

Vehicles are increasingly equipped with driver assistance technologies like rear-view cameras and vehicle proximity alerts. These Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) can support the driver in controlling the vehicle, provide warnings, or activate in specific situations.

But, according to Fleet News, “Safety features in cars such as lane-keeping assistance and reversing cameras or sensors are being switched off by drivers because they find them annoying.” The survey, commissioned by Brake and Axa UK, asked drivers about safety features in their cars, whether they ever switched them off, and, if so, why. “Almost half (46%) said they prioritize safety features when buying a new car, yet 41% said they had switched off at least one safety feature, mostly because they find it annoying.”

An earlier Allstate Léger survey of Quebec respondents found that 56 percent of drivers admitted to disabling safety features regularly. Of those drivers, 63 percent said it was because the features were annoying. JD Power research group further found that more than 60 percent of owners sometimes disabled lane-keeping assistance features and that only 21 percent don’t consider the alerts annoying or bothersome.

“Michiel van Ratingen, secretary-general of Euro NCAP, says car makers are doing a poor job of making sure warning and assistance systems work properly in the real world,” writes  News Corp Australia Network. “Car makers hoping to earn a coveted five-star safety rating must equip vehicles with modern technology intended to keep drivers safe.”

This includes various safety technologies such as lane-keeping assistance that can guide the car back to the center of the lane, speed-sign recognition that can alert drivers if they exceed the limit, and driver attention monitoring that warns if the driver is distracted. Manufacturers receive credit for including these technologies, but the combination of flashing lights, ringing alarms, and haptic vibrations can be overwhelming and act as distractions for the driver.

van Ratingen says safety authorities made the mistake of assuming car manufacturers would implement such safety features when forced to do so. “When we started to develop these tests, we understood that vehicle manufacturers would not bring in systems that would upset their customers.

“So, we focused basically on evaluating whether in critical scenarios where these systems should intervene, whether they would do a good job … that’s the basis from which we give five stars now. As it turned out, many vehicle manufacturers have used it as a blueprint for the system, which was never our intention. They basically said ‘Okay, if I meet the test that’s fine.’ What we see happening is that they are not properly evaluated in the real world. We assumed they would have the ethical courage to implement a good system. And if they could not deliver that, they wouldn’t go for it.”

ADAS Should Come Along For The Ride

Dr. K. Subramanian, Senior VP of Product Development at Ashok Leyland, admits ADAS has immense potential but it should be a companion, not the master, Mobility Outlook reports.

Based on a recent experience of hiring a driver and refraining from driving, Subramanian observed that the driver did not appreciate being alerted or suggested about potential threats, such as a rapidly approaching two-wheeler. As a result, he concluded that ADAS may not be viewed in the same way, becoming a “driver annoyance system” instead of being a genuine assistance system.

“In addressing the escalating road accidents and diverse driving conditions, Subramanian emphasized the need for sustained road safety efforts,” writes Mobility Outlook. “He proposed four focal points for ADAS to enhance its utility: Eco Mode (EM), Traffic Congestion Assistance (TCA), Curve Assist (CA), and Worst Damage Road Information (WDRI).

“According to him, EM optimizes vehicle performance for fuel efficiency and emission reduction, encouraging eco-friendly driving habits. TCA manages speed in traffic, promoting safe following distances and discouraging aggressive driving. CA provides steering support for safe navigation through curves, educating drivers on controlled and smooth steering inputs. WDRI offers information on road conditions and influences driver behavior to minimize wear and tear.”

Don’t Be Annoying

Nobody is suggesting that ADAS isn’t a valuable technology. The Brake/Axa survey found that 82% of drivers surveyed consider the safety rating to be an important factor when choosing a new car. In addition, an Automotive Management survey of over 7,000 car owners revealed that 58% of drivers with ADAS systems said they feel safer as a result and that about one-third said they would rule out buying a car if it wasn’t fitted with certain ADAS features.

Still, as What Car? Editor Steve Huntingford said, “While most drivers feel safer with advanced driver assistance technologies in their cars, a significant proportion have switched them off at some point, suggesting these systems often aren’t as user-friendly or intuitive as motorists would like.”

Of that, van Ratingen says it is the responsibility of car manufacturers “to make sure that these systems are not annoying. I think it’s now time for us to recognize that is part of the ecosystem, part of the equation. You can’t have a good system that only performs well on the track and not in the real world.”