Autopilot technologies may erode driving skills, Motoring News & Top Stories

NEW YORK • If your car can hit the brakes in an emergency and check your blind spots, will that make you complacent? Increasingly, carmakers are worrying it may.

Driver-assist technology that keeps cars in their lanes, maintains a safe distance from other vehicles, warns of unseen traffic and slams the brakes to avoid crashes are spreading from luxury cars to everyday Hondas, Nissans and Chevys.

But these aids are degrading driving skills. Mr Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, said: “Everything we do that makes the driving task a little easier means that people are going to pay a little less attention when they’re driving.”

United States road deaths jumped 14 per cent over the last two years, with more than 40,000 people dying in crashes last year. While speeding and more congested roads bear some of the blame, distraction is another key culprit.

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Data released by the government show manipulation of handheld devices while driving, including texting or surfing the Web.

The semi-autonomous features that are the building blocks of tomorrow’s driverless cars were designed to compensate for inattentiveness behind the wheel.

Instead, they may be enabling drivers to place too much faith in the new technology.

Companies are scrambling to find ways to keep drivers engaged, said Mr Mark Wakefield, managing director and head of the automotive practice at consultant AlixPartners.

General Motors is installing eye-tracking technology on the Super Cruise feature coming to Cadillac models this year, which allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel but needs them to watch the road.

Nissan’s ProPilot Assist keeps the car centred and brings it to a stop if the driver goes more than 30 seconds without grabbing the wheel.

Tesla last year implemented limits on drivers’ ability to go hands- free while using its Autopilot system.

Consumers recognise the perils of relinquishing control, even if…

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