Study: Safety Features Not Always Safer

Misunderstanding and misuse of driver assistance technology could lead to a crash


DENVER (Nov. 8, 2018) – As drivers increasingly rely on advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, and lane-keeping assist, the roads should be getting safer, right? Not quite: Per new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, many drivers are unaware of ADAS safety limitations -- and incorrectly perceive these systems as much more sophisticated and effective than they actually are. 

"ADAS technologies have the potential to prevent 40 percent of all vehicle crashes and nearly 30 percent of traffic deaths," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "To truly benefit from these features, though, drivers need to understand what they can do -- and what they can't."

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety commissioned researchers from the University of Iowa to survey drivers who recently purchased a 2016 or 2017 model-year vehicle with ADAS technologies. Researchers evaluated drivers opinions, awareness and understanding of these technologies and found that most did not know or understand the limitations of the systems: 

  • Blind spot monitoring: 80 percent of drivers did not know the technology's limitations or incorrectly believed that ADAS systems could monitor the roadway behind the vehicle or reliably detect bicycles, pedestrians, and vehicles passing at high speeds. They cannot.
  • Forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking: Nearly 40 percent of drivers did not know the system's limitations, or confused the two technologies -- incorrectly reporting that forward-collision warning could apply the brakes in emergency situations. Moreover, roughly one in six surveyed vehicle owners reported that they did not know whether or not their vehicle was equipped with automatic emergency braking. 

False expectations for ADAS systems can easily lead to misuse and an increase in driver distraction. In the survey:

  • About 25 percent of drivers using blind-spot monitoring or rear-cross traffic alert systems no longer perform visual checks or look over their shoulders for oncoming traffic or pedestrians.
  • About 25 percent of vehicle owners using forward-collision warning or lane-departure warning systems report feeling comfortable engaging in other tasks while driving.

"New vehicle safety tech will eventually make driving safer. But it can't replace the role of the driver, and fully autonomous vehicles are a long way off," McKinley said. "Automakers have an ethical responsibility to carefully educate consumers and accurately market these technologies."

As part of its ongoing traffic safety mission, new AAA Foundation research also evaluated the potential these popular advanced driver assistance technologies have in helping to reduce or prevent crashes. All told, if installed on all vehicles, ADAS technologies could prevent more than 2.7 million crashes, 1.1 million injuries, and nearly 9,500 deaths each year.

Per the report, at least 70 percent of vehicle owners report that they would recommend the technology to other drivers.

  • 84 percent of drivers told AAA they trust their blind-spot monitoring systems.
  • 82 percent of drivers trust rear-cross traffic alerts.
  • 77 percent trust lane-departure warnings.
  • 72 percent trust lane-keeping assist.
  • 69 percent trust their forward-collision warning systems.
  • 66 percent of drivers trust their vehicle's automatic emergency braking.

Only about half of drivers who purchased their vehicle from a dealership recalled being offered training on their car's technologies. For those who were, nearly 90 percent took advantage of the opportunity and completed the training.

In order to reduce misuse or over-reliance on these systems, AAA encourages drivers to learn about their car's technology before they leave the lot. 

  • Read your owner's manual to learn what systems are installed in your vehicle. 
  • Be an informed buyer. Ask plenty of questions about the alerts, functions, capabilities, and limitations of the vehicle's safety technologies before leaving the dealership. Insist on an in-vehicle demonstration and test drive to better understand how the systems will engage on the roadway.

For additional resources, visit AAA's classroom or online  Roadwise Driver course can also help drivers learn more about the functions and limitations of popular ADAS technologies available on new vehicles. 

About the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a not-for-profit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation's mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research is used to develop educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users. Visit


About AAA Colorado

More than 685,000 members strong, AAA Colorado is the state's most-trusted advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 58 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services - as well as member-exclusive savings. For more information, visit