Driver Assistance or Driver Annoyance? Survey Finds Car Safety Technology Isn’t Always Liked by Drivers

By Lesley Green
A close-up of a dashboard showing the lane departure warning icon.
  • 52% of Canadians say they rarely or never rely on their car’s driver assist technologies.
  • Drivers are most interested in driver assistance technology that helps them keep control of the vehicle versus tech that took control of the vehicle.
  • Driver assistance technologies are there to aid the driver (e.g., back-up cameras), to warn the driver (e.g., blind-spot detection), or to assist the driver (e.g., automatic emergency braking).

Driver assistance technology is increasingly more common in today’s vehicles, but many drivers don’t fully appreciate these features of their car, a recent survey has found.

Systems such as rear-view cameras and vehicle proximity alerts are designed to improve safety. But a survey conducted by Leger on behalf of Allstate Insurance Co. of Canada in May 2021 found that many drivers don’t fully make use of the safety equipment.

Of the Canadians surveyed, more than half (52 percent) said they rarely or never rely on their car’s driver-assist technologies. Among this group, 42 percent mentioned they were distracted by the warnings and 56 percent admitted to turning off at least one of their vehicle’s driver assistance features.

The two main reasons respondents turn off their driver-assist features are because they are annoying (63 percent) and because they don’t trust them (14 percent). However, drivers are doing so at great risk.

Allstate’s auto insurance data shows that vehicles equipped with more driver assistance technologies tend to have a lower frequency of claims than vehicles only equipped with a back-up camera.

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Driver assistance: Keeping control of a vehicle versus taking control

The results of another survey (April 2021) may hint at why many drivers eschew some of their car’s driver-assist technologies.

This survey, by CarGurus, asked respondents which driving assistance features they already have in their current vehicles, and which are they interested in getting in their next? The company notes that drivers seem to be most interested in driver assistance technology that helped them keep control of the vehicle versus tech that took control of the vehicle. It’s a big difference, especially for those who like to drive.

Driver-assist technology Already have in vehicle Interested in getting
Back-up camera 31% 40%
Blind-spot monitoring 16% 55%
Pedestrian detection 7% 54%
Surround view camera 6% 54%
Automatic emergency braking 11% 47%
Adaptive cruise control 17% 38%
Rear cross-traffic alert 9% 44%
Driver attention monitor 8% 44%
Lane-keeping assist 10% 41%
Automatic parking 5% 45%
Traffic sign recognition 3% 40%

Types of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)

Love it or loathe it, driver assistance technologies are here to stay, and many vehicles today are already decked out with a variety of ADAS. But not everyone understands what their car is capable of doing.

The U.S.-based National Safety Council has a handy website called MyCarDoesWhat.org that identifies and explains all the different driver assistance technologies currently available.

These technologies can be grouped into one of three primary functions: To aid the driver (e.g., back-up cameras), to warn the driver (e.g., blind-spot detection), or to assist the driver (e.g., automatic emergency braking). Whatever their primary function, all have been developed to lessen the likelihood of a collision.

  • Adaptive cruise control: Automatically increases your speed or applies your brakes to slow down to maintain a set following distance relative to the car ahead of you.
  • Adaptive headlights: Normally, headlights are in a fixed position. However, adaptive headlights swivel to match your steering. They may also automatically switch between high and low beams as needed.
  • Anti-lock braking system (ABS): In Canada, ABS has been standard on all new vehicles since 2012. ABS prevents your brakes from locking up when you have to apply them in an emergency so that you can continue to steer in the direction you want to go.
  • Automatic emergency braking (AEB): When there’s another vehicle ahead that has stopped or slowed down, AEB will apply your vehicle’s brakes if you don’t to reduce the likelihood of a rear-end crash.
  • Back-up camera: Helps you to see objects behind your vehicle while in reverse, but this feature does not eliminate the need for shoulder checks or using your mirrors while backing up.
  • Electronic stability control (ESC): Standard in Canada since 2012, ESC automatically applies your car’s brakes on one or more wheels when the sensors detect that your steering doesn’t match the direction your vehicle is travelling.
  • Forward collision warning: Unlike AEB, the forward collision warning will not apply your vehicle’s brakes to avoid a crash. Instead, it will give you a warning that you need to take corrective measures. The warning could be a sound, vibration, or brake pulse; the warning will vary by vehicle.
  • Lane departure warning: This feature will alert you when your vehicle is drifting out of the lane you are driving in. The alert could be a sound, vibration, or visual warning.
  • Lane-keeping assist: This feature takes the lane departure warning one step further and will steer your vehicle back into its proper lane.
  • Parking sensors: Parking sensors will alert you audibly (usually with a beep) of the closeness of other vehicles or objects. The quicker the beeps are together, the closer you are to the object in front or behind you.
  • Automatic parallel parking: This feature automatically steers you into a parallel parking spot. However, you are still in control of the braking required and the shift into reverse or drive.
  • Rear cross-traffic alert: This feature will give you a warning, usually both visually and audibly, when reversing and if there are other vehicles approaching from the side of your vehicle or the rear, which you may not yet see.
  • Tire pressure monitoring: A properly inflated tire is essential in ensuring your vehicle’s fuel economy and minimizing the risk of a blowout. This feature will let you know when one or more of your tires is under-inflated or over-inflated.

No matter what driver assistance technology your vehicle is outfitted with, Transport Canada reminds all drivers that you need to “stay alert at all times when you drive with or without assistance technologies.”

You’re encouraged to:

  • Know your vehicle and familiarize yourself with features specific to it. Read your owner’s manual before you test out any ADAS while driving.
  • Know your system because it will vary between manufacturers. While they may have the same name (e.g., blind-spot warning), they may not have the same function or scope. Always know your vehicle's capabilities before you drive.
  • Know your vehicle feature's limitations because features may only work under specific conditions. For example, the lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist may not work properly when the lines on the road are snow-covered, littered with leaves, or the weather is foggy.

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With files from Thompson’s World Insurance News. Used with permission.