Some in-car technologies have significantly improved road safety. Since the 1970's, there has been a big decline in car accident fatalities, and this is largely driven not by safer drivers but by the fact cars have become safer. In-vehicle safety tech goes way beyond the basics today. In addition to anti-lock brakes and a full array of airbags, more and more cars have front crash avoidance systems with automatic braking; rear-view cameras; blindspot detectors; and more.
Unfortunately, while new technology has helped to enhance road safety in important ways, it has also had an adverse impact on car accident risks in other ways. There are two primary problems with technology. One is that some technologies, like smartphones and infotainment systems, can take away focus from the road and thus increase crashes since drivers don't pay careful attention. The second is that all of the added automation in cars is giving people a false sense of security and making them more likely to take dangerous risks, like using their cell phones while driving... even though they know that ups their chances of being in an accident!
Recently, New York Times reported on the troubling rise in auto accidents which can be attributed, at least in part, to distracted driving prompted by the rise in tech use. During the first six months of 2016, there were 17,775 fatalities in car accident fatalities in the United States.
This was a 10.4 percent increase in deaths compared to the first six months of 2015. There has not been such a substantial increase in car accident fatalities in the past half-century! Unfortunately, deaths were expected to continue at that pace or even get worse because the second half of the year is always a more dangerous time on the roads due to bad weather and holidays where high numbers of deaths happen.
While more people are driving than before, which helps to explain the rising death rate, the percent increase in fatalities far outpaces the percent increase in miles driven. A rise in distracted driving provides a better explanation for why deaths are going up.
A full 68 percent of adults today owns a smartphone according to PC World, compared to just 35 percent four years ago. Most cars also come equipped with infotainment systems now, which the president of the National Safety Council has warned are causing problems by encouraging more interaction with new technology in the car even as they purport to be safer because they are hands-free.
Of course, as National Safety Council (NSC) warns, hands-free still isn't safe! When a driver focuses on something besides the road, like talking on his phone or talking to his car's infotainment system, NSC indicates he could miss as much as 50 percent of what is going on around him. This is an accident waiting to happen, and helps to explain why crash rates are going up!