New safety features (like backup cameras and forward collision warnings) can save lives. For example, if every vehicle had a blind spot detection system in 2015, there would have been 50,000 fewer crashes.
Modern tech makes our roads safer but doesn't replace humans behind the wheel. Sometimes, it fails. What happens when safety features malfunction? It's up to responsible drivers to quickly step in, avoid accidents, and keep themselves (and other road users!) safe.
Fortunately, there are ways you can prepare yourself. Let's dig deeper.
What Are the Most Common Safety Features?
Cars have had passive safety features for decades. Think of seatbelts and airbags. But modern cars and trucks now also come with active safety features:
Blind spot warning
Rear cross-traffic alert
Adaptive cruise control
Forward collision warning
Lane departure warning
Those are all pretty common, but some systems are even more sophisticated:
Traffic signal recognition
Lane change assist
Can Safety Features Malfunction?
Yes, safety features can malfunction and are far from 100% effective.
The National Highway and Safety Transportation Agency (NHTSA) receives hundreds of malfunction reports every year. Some systems fail more than others:
Speeding warnings, cruise control, and brake assist: 21% of all malfunctions.
Parking assistance systems: 15% of all malfunctions.
Lane-departure technology: 10% of all malfunctions.
Self-driving technology: 6% of all malfunctions.
Drowsiness alerts and road sign recognition: 4% of all malfunctions.
3 Ways Tech Malfunctions
This modern technology is complicated and can fail for many reasons:
Cameras and sensors become obstructed. Dirt, mud, or snow can completely block them. When that happens, the safety system stops working.
Manufacturers make mistakes. If something is faulty with the safety feature, automakers will urge drivers to go fix it. Remember to check if there's a recall for your vehicle every once in a while.
The systems may not be developed enough. Because we're most likely to share the road with cars, trucks, and SUVs, some cameras and sensors aren't refined enough to detect cyclists and bikers.
Safety Feature Malfunctions Are a Dangerous Reality
Safety feature malfunctions have made headlines recently.
In 2022, a teenager on their way home from school was run over by a self-driving Tesla in North Carolina. The school bus had its stop sign out and lights flashing, yet the car didn't even slow down. The safety features didn't work, but fortunately, the student was okay after a few days.
A couple of years earlier, a woman in Arizona was struck by another self-driving vehicle. This time, the car noticed her near the road, but didn't predict she would have crossed and did not swerve to avoid her. Sadly, the crash was fatal.
These accidents have a lot in common: safety features malfunctions and drivers not paying attention to the road. In the first case, they should have stopped for the school bus. In the second, the driver should have slowed down to safely share the road with the pedestrian.
How to Prepare Yourself as a Driver
According to AAA, drivers in the United States are increasingly worried about self-driving technology. It can save lives, but it's not perfect. These tips will help keep you and those around you safe.
Stay in Control
Your car may be programmed to brake immediately and prevent rear-end collisions. But that doesn't mean you should text and drive. If the system fails, how will you have enough time to react and prevent a crash?
Always pay attention to the road and be ready to take control.
Learn About the Tech
Try to understand what safety features your vehicle has and what they do. The names may be deceiving!
Take blind spot monitoring, for example. It often doesn't detect vehicles moving at very high speeds, bikes, or pedestrians. Yet 80% of drivers believe it does! If they completely trust the safety system and stop checking blind spots, then their smart car would be making them worse drivers.
Don't Drop Safe Driving Habits
What you learn in driver's ed and defensive driving is important. So keep putting it into practice. Things like respecting a safe following distance and avoiding distractions prevent accidents — even if you're driving a self-piloted vehicle!
Driver Education Saves Lives
Human drivers make mistakes, and so do computers. But when we combine a strong driver's education with safety features, we save lives. Aceable offers online driver's ed courses to keep you safe on the road. Learn your state's traffic laws and how to read traffic signs quickly through fun, engaging classes. They're a life-long investment.