Can we be overwhelmed by technology?

Digital Trends recently published an interesting article (click here to see it) titled “Driving under the influence: Why car safety tech might actually be making us more dangerous behind the wheel”

The article thoughtfully examines how we drive, what happens when we get too comfortable in our cabin on “auto pilot” and what factors may be compounding the issue.  For instance, when we first started driving, we had a higher anxiety level — everything was new and we focused on judging the space around our car.  Learning to drive a manual transmission would also keep a young driver focused on “driving” and because they’re busy using their hands and feet to shift, they’re less likely to be using their thumbs to text while driving (interesting? check out this study — click here)

However, over the years, we get complacent for a variety of reasons:  we’re comfortable operating our vehicle, we’re familiar with the roads near where we live and typically drive, and we’ve learned that traction control, electronic stability control, ABS braking, airbags and such will protect us “if” we have a problem that is truly unexpected.

On this issue the article introduces an interesting concept:

A number of studies have already examined how humans react to different levels of stimulus while performing a task. The first is what is known as the Yerkes-Dodson law, which predates the mass adoption of the automobile but is still extremely relevant. Developed by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson in 1908, the law basically states that the amount of stimulus offered by a given task is directly related to how much attention we will give it. Too much stimuli will overwhelm us and too little will cause us to become bored, neither of which is ideal when it comes to devoting maximum attention to driving. Back in 1908, and for some years thereafter, operating an automobile would often send people into the stressed end of the spectrum, but these days it is boredom that poses the greater threat.

Yerkes-Dodson law graph

Overall, the article challenges us to re-think our assumptions about how we drive.  I know a lot of people identify with the concept of slipping into “auto pilot” mode when on longer trips, or cruising highways.  Maybe there’s something to using technology to engage us and keep us focused, but at the same time, too much information (overload) can have an equally damning effect.

A second part of the equation is offered this way:

But there is another factor at work here, one which is harder to see in action. Fred Mannering of Purdue University has called attention to the fact that, although things like anti-lock brakes and airbags should be making us safer, accident fatality rates have actually been increasing. He theorizes that people feel so much more protected by their cars, that they are more likely to engage in risky behavior. This is related to the psychological phenomenon known as the Peltzman effect, also more commonly known as risk compensation. Basically, it says we engage in riskier behavior the safer we feel. It has been applied to cars in past, for instance when talking about seat belts, but the effect was much less evident when the safety equipment was something so basic. Features such as stability control are said not to have caused an increase in risky driving, since the effect only happens when the driver is aware of what the safety equipment is doing. But technologies like adaptive cruise control (to match the speed of the car in front of you) and lane departure warnings (audio visual cues given when you drift out of a marked lane) appear to have been designed specifically for those who would rather check their Facebook than their blind spot. [emphasis added]

Do you agree with the author’s assertion that we may be overconfident in our driving habits due to the newest advances in technology being applied to our cars and trucks?  I’ve heard this argument before, but I’m not sure whether I fully agree or not.

Take a second look at the source article and let us know your thoughts at our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/SafetyFirstSystems), Linked In group, or right here at our blog site.

We believe traffic safety results can be improved and that every driver bears a share of the responsibility to make things “safer”.

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