by: Michael Rose
Adaptive cruise control (“ACC”) is one of the newer and advanced features being offered on vehicles. Where manufacturers praise it as a revolutionary safety feature, consumers may depend on it as a comprehensive system of convenience. ACC does not substitute drivers, but supplements driving and drivers failing to appreciate this distinction may transform ACC’s safety function into a safety hazard. The most obvious risk with viewing ACC as a driver substitute is the driver’s over-reliance on the system. This could instigate a number of problems such as lowering driver alertness and welcoming driver distraction. Furthermore, a driver’s lack of ACC system knowledge not only presents dangers with over-reliance, but under-reliance, as well.
Lowering driver alertness also lowers driver control as the disengaged driver is allowing ACC to maintain primary control over the vehicle. This could lead to drivers overreacting to an ACC function, (i.e. impulsively swerving when startled by an ACC alert), or underreacting to other vehicles that the system does not register. Additionally, lowering driver alertness can exacerbate driver fatigue as the drivers are not as engaged or stimulated when driving with ACC. The AAA Foundation for Driver Safety found that, annually, 328,000 of crashes involve a drowsy driver (roughly 6,400 of them fatal) – that is 21% of total crashes, nationwide. If a situation arose that called for driver intervention of ACC, a drowsy driver will have a slower response time, that is, if they respond at all.
Relying too much on ACC also welcomes driver distraction. According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, in 2015 alone, 391,000 people were injured, and 3,477 were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. One of the most common distractors when driving is the use of cell phones which is not only dangerous, but illegal in many states. Over-reliance on ACC increases the likelihood of cell phone use and the associated dangers and fines that follow.
Drivers lacking ACC system knowledge also present numerous potential dangers. As mentioned above, a misconception of ACC’s overall purpose – a safety feature not a substitute driver – can create dangers. Being unaware of the system’s limitations can create dangers, such as weather conditions being able to interfere with the system’s ability to sense vehicles. If a person is relying on the car to yield to leading vehicles in inclement weather, there is an obvious increase of the chance of collision. If a driver does not expect the system to accelerate so aggressively, they might react in an inappropriate manner, increasing chances of collision. If the AAC’s dashboard icon is too dull, drivers may not know when the system is on and react inappropriately if they mistakenly believe it is on or off. Not understanding that the system may give false warnings, such as braking being triggered by reflective white lines on the road, presents safety concerns for the vehicle’s driver as well as the drivers of following vehicles. Inappropriate responses to false warnings can result in collision, and drivers of following vehicles may fail to react to sudden and unexpected stops initiated by the system.
It is apparent that there are many potential dangers associated with ACC knowledge, trust and complacency. Even if a driver finds the perfect balance, technology is unpredictable and ever-evolving, and humans are even more so.