Do driver aids make you a worse driver?

* Researchers looking at 'risk adaptation' * where drivers depend on technology * Clear benefits can be shown, however...

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What Car? Staff
18 May 2010

Do driver aids make you a worse driver?

Could driver aids such as adaptive headlights, clever cruise control and automatic brakes turn motorists into worse drivers?

That's the question motor research centre Thatcham is looking at, so it can firmly establish the overall benefit of technologies.

Matthew Avery, manager of Thatcham's crash laboratory, believes safety systems and driver aids bring obvious benefits, but could also encourage drivers to pay less attention, or take more risks assuming the car will always get them out of trouble.

'There is possibly, a negative effect of risk adaptation the driver might drive a little less attentively. There could be some negative issues that we need to research.'

Creating the future
Avery is hopeful, for instance, that the fitment of automatic brakes on the new Ford Focus will provide Thatcham with more data to definitively prove that the benefits outweigh any potential drawback and ensure insurance premiums for cars with the technology can be reduced.

This has already been achieved with stability control, which, as standard fitment rates continue to increase, has been proved to save 380 lives a year, prevent 1100 serious injuries and cut the overall number of road accidents by 7800.

Avery is sure that primary safety systems, which prevent accidents happening in the first place, are the way forward. Talking of the new Volvo S60 he said: 'This is almost a car we couldn't crash. This really is the future of safety we're at the beginning of a revolution.'

Who's in control?
Modern cars can already brake for us, control our speed and distance from other cars and automatically steer to help keep us in the correct lane.

Put these systems together and, in theory, you have a car that can drive itself, but will that ever become a reality?

Thomas Broberg, from Volvo said: 'I'd say it will happen in about 10 years. Think about where we were in the past few years and where we are now. You wouldn't have imagined the things that we have now were possible.'

Will legislators and insurers really accept or allow cars that drive themselves, particularly given the recent issues with Toyota?

Broberg hopes technical failures won't derail development because technology will always fail less often than humans. He said: 'Any system that relies on human reliability is unreliable.'