Driving you to distraction: 5 ways technology could actually be making roads more dangerous

How often do you take your eyes off the road to check a device? Mobile phones are the obvious culprit, but there are also things like built-in parking assist systems and digital assistants to consider.

Do these seemingly time, effort and brain power-saving bits of kit lure us into a false sense of security? Are they convincing us that it’s ok to take our eye off the ball for a while because the tech has got our backs?

A recent report in iNews discusses David Beckham’s six-month driving ban for using his phone at the wheel, and takes the opportunity to highlight just how risky using tech in your vehicle could be.

1. Multitasking is impossible

Scientific research confirms that multitasking is impossible. And if you’re after a stark example that applies specifically to road users, the American Psychological Association puts it like this:

“For example, losing just a half second of time to task switching can make a life-or-death difference for a driver on a cell phone traveling at 30 mph. During the time the driver is not totally focused on driving the car, it can travel far enough to crash into an obstacle that might otherwise have been avoided.”

A New Scientist article even goes so far as to state that using a mobile phone at the wheel is worse than being drunk.

2. Speaking still requires processing power

Whether you’re speaking or using your hands – you might be doing both – you’re still using your brain to carry out the task in question.

As iNews reports, “Driving is complex and fast-paced, requiring the processing of information from multiple inputs, yet often we are made to feel as though it is easy.”

Despite this, the list of tasks you can do while driving includes asking your virtual assistant a question, listening to text messages, and making phone calls via voice commands.

Should makers of ‘infotainment’ tech like Alexa and Google Assistant really be resting on the assumption that their kit is safe for drivers to use?

3. What about listening to music while driving?

If you’re concerned about how this news affects your choice to listen to your favourite driving playlist while you’re on the road for work, you can rest easy.

Listening to music isn’t as interactive as some of the other activities we’ve mentioned, so there shouldn’t be too much risk here – but it’s probably best to keep the air guitar to a minimum.

4. Vehicle automation could cause more distraction

Vehicles can almost drive themselves these days, can’t they?

Vehicle adverts often lead us to believe that modern technology is so great that we can pretty much leave our cars and vans to drive themselves.

The European Parliament has said that intelligent speed assistance and alerts for when you get distracted or drowsy should be fitted to new cars from 2022. In theory, these sound like positive steps to safer roads, but there’s also the chance that they’ll do the opposite and cause more distraction and danger.

Even if your car or van does have an anti-lock breaking system (ABS), parking-assist, reversing sensors and lane-keeping technology, could extra buttons, screens and lights to focus on in your vehicle actually cause extra distraction?

And is it really worth the potential risk to fully rely on this kind of tech?

5. And it’s an excuse for drivers not to take responsibility

The iNews report also makes an interesting point about judgements on what is a safe driving speed. If speed-limiting technology is fitted to all vehicles, it takes the responsibility out of the hands of drivers.

For example, depending on changing road conditions, or a particular incident on a particular day, maybe driving at 20 mph would be safer than driving at 30 mph in that 30 zone.

This, at a time when we’re seeing that 23 per cent of drivers admit to disregarding smart motorway lane closures.

Do you think tech safety features are helping to make UK roads safer or more dangerous? Tell us in the comments.

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