Capital News Service

Training needed for car safety features, study says

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Some Michigan drivers are having difficulty understanding new car technology, according to a recent study by the American Automobile Association. 

The study found that drivers who had formal training with adaptive cruise control — a system that monitors a vehicle’s acceleration and braking to maintain an appropriate distance from the car in front of it — understand it better than drivers without such training. 

“This new research shows that the learn-as-you-go approach still leaves a gap in understanding when compared to another group of drivers who had a very strong grasp of the technology,” said Adrienne Woodland, the association’s public relations program consultant. 

“Today’s sophisticated vehicle technology requires more than trial-and-error learning to master it, and you can’t ‘fake it until you make it’ at highway speeds,” Woodland said. “New car owners must receive training that is safe, effective and enjoyable before they hit the road.” 

CEO Carla Bailo of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor said part of the problem is the lack of uniformity among car manufacturers when it comes to creating new systems. 

“There’s no standard,” Bailo said. “Every automaker can call these systems whatever they want and program them however they want.” 

Bailo said the industry remains safety conscious, but the absence of a standard among automakers creates confusion for drivers trying to understand new features and how to work them. 

Between 2019-20, total traffic collisions in Michigan dropped 22%, and collisions decreased among drivers 60 years or older, but the number of fatal crashes went up 12%, according to the State Police. 

Bailo said the new systems are supposed to prevent traffic deaths, but many drivers turn them off because they don’t know how to use them.

She said to address that problem, driver’s education programs must be updated to teach students about ever-changing car systems.

“As vehicles get smarter, the driver training system has not kept up with that at all,” Bailo said. “We need to do something different in the way we’re training drivers initially.” 

Karen Kafantaris, the associate director of Michigan AARP, said the organization has noticed that trend and adopted driver safety programs in response to it. 

The program that specifically addresses new vehicle technology is the Smart DriverTEK program, she said. It was established after AARP surveyed older drivers and found that they wanted to learn more about those systems.

Smart headlights, reverse monitoring, blind spot warning, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, drowsy-driver alerts, assistive parking, adaptive cruise control and emergency-response systems are new features taught in the class. 

The one-time, 90-minute program and its self-paced online alternative have been effective in reaching older adults, Kafantaris said. The program went online once the pandemic started, but Kafantaris said it’s about to be offered in person again. 

In March, the program reached a couple of hundred viewers, she said. 

“Most people equate transportation and their ability to drive with their independence,” Kafantaris said. “When they stop being able to drive and they don’t have a way to get where they need to go, a lot of people find themselves stuck.

“We work very hard to help people stay safe and continue driving safely.”

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