Here’s some sobering news as we wait, likely in vain, for the state Legislature to pass a hands-free cellphone law before the end of the year: Our cars aren’t going to save us from our own distraction.
According to AAA, the automated emergency braking systems found in many newer cars work only intermittently and are “completely ineffective” at night.
The not-for-profit auto club called the results of its study “alarming,” noting that 75% of the roughly 6,000 pedestrian fatalities happen at night, a percentage that has grown over the past decade — coinciding with an increase in in-car distractions from smartphones.
“Pedestrian fatalities are on the rise, proving how important the safety impact of these systems could be when further developed,” AAA spokeswoman Mary Maguire said earlier this fall. “But, our research found that current systems are far from perfect and still require an engaged driver behind the wheel.”
The key word here is “engaged.” The AAA’s testing, which involved four midsize sedans equipped with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, found the systems couldn’t consistently overcome even the most modest of infractions, like coming to a timely stop when traveling 30 mph in a 20 mph school zone. They stand no chance with the modern driver — sending a text, twiddling the radio dial or scarfing a morning Egg McMuffin — behind the wheel.
It’s clear the new technology lends drivers some confidence. But as the AAA report shows, it’s a false sense of security:
“Overall, the systems performed best in the instance of the adult crossing in front of a vehicle traveling at 20 mph during the day,” AAA reported. “In this case, the systems avoided a collision 40% of the time. But, at the higher speed of 30 mph, most systems failed to avoid a collision with the simulated pedestrian target.”
— When presented with the classic “kid dashing out from between two parked cars” scenario, the braking systems failed 89% of the time. In other words, a child would have been struck 9 out of 10 times.
— When approaching two “adults” standing alongside the road, with the vehicle traveling at 20 mph, a collision occurred 80% of the time.
— “At night, none of the systems detected or reacted to the adult pedestrian.”
Technology isn’t going to save us from ourselves. And in the case of smartphones, it is clearly making driving more dangerous. Lawmakers have been quibbling over the details of hands-free driving legislation for the better part of a year. There’s no excuse for not voting it into law before the holidays.