Adaptive cruise control. Lane assist. And, in some cases, complete autopilot. As our nation’s roadways become increasingly crowded, the vehicles on them are getting increasingly smarter. Skills and habits that were once fundamental to the safe operation of a vehicle – things like checking blind spots before changing lanes and maintaining safe following distances – are becoming more and more rare as our vehicles take on these responsibilities themselves.
When used as intended, these systems can save us from ourselves. The collision caused by missing the blind spot check you were supposed to conduct might be avoided as your car prevents you from turning into the car next to you. Adaptive cruise control might give you the additional time you need to brake before colliding with the slowing vehicles ahead of you. But these systems are meant to augment; not replace, a skilled driver. And too many drivers are using them as opportunities to take attention away from driving and focus on other things.
A study conducted by State Farm presents some abhorrent numbers on the epidemic of distracted drivers on our highways and neighborhood streets. While half of drivers surveyed admitted to reading or sending text messages while driving, that number jumped to over 60 percent for owners of vehicles with smart systems installed. Over half of respondents were scrolling or posting to social media rather than focusing on keeping themselves and those around them alive. 40 percent were engaged in a video chat. And, as seen in a video posted to Twitter of a situation encountered in Massachusetts, a driver and his passenger were moving down a Boston highway at 60 miles per hour while both were sound asleep in the cabin of a Tesla.
“I’m never going to look at [a self-driving car] the same,” said the driver who shared the video. “I’m always going to look to see if somebody’s asleep.” When reached for comment, Massachusetts State Police stated that, technically speaking, no law exists that specifically makes it illegal to sleep behind the wheel of a self-driving car.