For most drivers, a safe car is one that is equipped with the latest in-car technology. In a recent study conducted by CARFAX—a company that provides vehicle history reports and used car listings—87 percent of the drivers surveyed listed car tech safety features as being an important consideration when shopping for a new or used car. However, the study also revealed that some drivers, especially younger drivers, may come to over rely on car technology safety features rather than basic safe driving habits.

Benefits of today’s car safety technology

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Source: CARFAX

The number of car safety features currently on the market is dizzying. And, drivers are increasingly relying on these technologies. Indeed, the CARFAX study showed that more than half of respondents “fully trust” this technology.

Many cars are now come equipped with safety technologies, including:

  • Backup cameras – One of the most common and popular features, these help give drivers a clear view of the path behind them when reversing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has mandated that this technology be standard in all passenger vehicles made after May 2018.
  • Collision mitigation  This driver assistive technology issues a warning and automatically hits the brakes if sensors detect that a collision is imminent.
  • Lane departure warning – This car safety technology lets you know if you’ve drifted out of your lane.
  • Blind-spot monitors – This driving aid helps keep an eye on lane next to you and warns you if you’re about to make an unsafe lane change.
  • Drowsiness detection monitors – Various cameras and sensors in your car work together determine whether you’re driving while drowsy or fatigued. If drowsy driving is detected, it issues a warning to either pull over and get some rest or let someone else take the wheel.

These car safety technologies add a lot of value. “NHTSA lists features such as a rearview camera, forward collision warning and lane departure warning as recommended safety technologies,” says Jim Sharifi, editor for CARFAX. Many insurance companies even offer discounts to drivers whose vehicles are equipped with certain technologies, which speaks to the important safety benefits these features provide.

Can car technology interfere with safe driving habits?

However, while there’s no doubt that technology features are working to make our cars safer, they may also interfere with developing safe habits on the road. The CARFAX study revealed two areas where drivers may be over-reliant on car safety features.

Hands-free phone technology

The CARFAX study found that 46 percent of drivers ages 18-34 admit to engaging with their devices while driving. Nine percent admitted to doing so frequently — the highest rate of any age group in the study.

Using a handheld cell phone has been banned in several U.S. states and territories because it distracts drivers. Hands-free technology, however, allows drivers to talk on the phone while keeping their hands on the wheel. But, it is still considered distracted driving and isn’t proven to lower the risk of an accident.

Backup cameras

Backup cameras are incredibly useful and popular. (In the CARFAX study, 57 percent of respondents said it will be a must-have feature in the next vehicle they buy.) But, they aren’t foolproof. It’s essential to remember that there may be oncoming traffic or pedestrians that aren’t in the camera’s line of sight. And, debris can also obstruct the view.

Drivers’ education materials instruct drivers to turn over their shoulders and look through the rear window as a first step when backing up. But, 30% of drivers surveyed said they check their backup cameras as a first step. In addition, the study showed that many millennials may be relying almost entirely on backup cameras. In fact, 35 percent of millennials said they don’t look over their shoulder or do so infrequently.

Safe driving tips to use alongside safety technology

According to the National Safety Council, motor-vehicle deaths rose by six percent year-over-year in 2016. There were 40,200 deaths caused by traffic accidents in 2016. This was the first time since 2007 that the number of annual traffic-related deaths exceeded 40,000. The rise in traffic fatalities comes at a time when most cars are safer than ever.

These figures demonstrate that current car safety technology is not a foolproof solution for driver safety. With this in mind, here are a few basic driving habits to practice, even when using driver-assistive features.

  1. Don’t rely only on your backup camera to reverse. Check your rearview mirror, look over your shoulder through your rear window, and check your car’s side mirrors to make sure it’s safe to reverse. Then, check the image provided by your vehicle’s backup camera to see if the path is clear.
  2. Avoid phone conversations while driving, even if you have hands-free phone technology in your car. Hands-free phone use can still divert your attention when you’re behind the wheel. A conversation of any sort requires a certain amount of focus. This is attention that’s best devoted to the road when you’re driving a car. If you have to use hands-free mode to answer a call while driving, keep the conversation short.
  3. Always check before changing lanes. Be sure look over your shoulder and check your side mirrors to make sure the coast is clear when navigating a lane change. This will ensure that your safety is protected in all circumstances and serve as a double-check for your car’s blind-spot warning system. Blind-spot warning systems can be a life-saver when making lane changes, but these systems can sometimes fail, due to things such as rain, humidity, ice, mud, snow and even a new paint job.

Wrap up: Car safety tech doesn’t replace safe driving habits

Even if your vehicle is equipped with the latest safety features, it doesn’t justify abandoning certain tried-and-true driving habits. CARFAX’s Sharifi says it best: “It’s important to remember that while safety technology is continually evolving. These are still driver aids, meaning that they are not a substitute for safe driving habits. These features can improve driver confidence and add a layer of convenience, but drivers still need to be alert and aware of their surroundings.”