When the Technology in Our Cars is No Longer Our Ally

A man drives a car looking at his GPS.

By Bertrand Godin, racing driver, instructor and columnist

Since its creation, the automobile has always been evolving. That progress will continue with new technological innovations that seem to be revealed on a regular basis. Compared to cars of the past, driving modern cars with anti-lock braking system (ABS), stability controls and automated driving systems, is getting easier and easier.

However, these new technologies must be used appropriately. As a driving instructor, I have taught over 9,000 people – and what I have noticed is that 75% of drivers I’ve taught tend to underestimate or overestimate the capabilities of what their car can do in its environment.

The Importance of Understanding the Features of Our Cars

Designed to make our lives easier, modern drivers assist features must be understood and used with caution by the driver. However, a new Léger survey conducted on behalf of Allstate Canada revealed that only 29% of Canadian respondents claimed to fully understand all the features of their car, and 16% said they don’t fully comprehend them.

With different technologies from one automotive brand to another – and even one model to another – really knowing what our car is capable of, as well as its limitations, can become a challenge. However, that knowledge can be essential for the safety of you, your passengers and those around you.

Technology has its limits

For some people, however, having an overreliance on driving assist features can unfortunately diminish the driver’s attention and at the same time may increase the risk of a collision.

These systems have their limits. For example, who has attempted a lane change relying solely on the blind spot detection system? You may assume that, since the light isn’t on, that it’s okay to change lanes without turning your head to check your blind spot – yet, your system may have missed the motorcycle that is about to pass you.

According to the University of Iowa research, commissioned by American Automobile Association, more than one quarter of drivers at times rely completely on their blind-spot monitors and rear-cross-traffic alert systems to watch the road for them. The research also reveals that some have even admitted they have stopped watching the road, made a call or sent a text because they trusted driver assistance systems such as lane keeping or adaptive cruise control.

As great as it is to have driver assistance systems on your car, an overreliance on the technology (or an under reliance of your skills) may cause serious collisions to happen. So here are my list of practical tips for safe driving with technology in the car:

  • Get familiar with features specific to your vehicle before using them on public roads.
  • Driver assistance technologies still require paying attention to the road. Some features may only work in specific conditions, such as within a certain speed.
  • Technologies like reversing cameras are there to help see around you, but always make sure to have a good look too, in order to have a better idea of what is happening near your vehicle.
  • Program any device you plan to use before starting your journey (never do it while driving). Stop in a safe place on the side of the road if you have to use a technology device.
  • Do not hesitate to ask your car dealer any questions about the technology found in your vehicle, so you can better understand its purpose and how to use it properly. You can also find information in the vehicle’s owner’s manual, or in the electronic owner’s manual built into some vehicles’ infotainment systems.

This information has been provided for your convenience only and should not be construed as providing legal or insurance advice.