The first breakthrough in car safety came in 1934 when General Motors performed a crash test for the very first time on a 1929 Chevrolet. Since then, the transport industry has (thankfully) come a long way when it comes to safety, with most new vehicles now featuring some form of driver assistance technology (commonly known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) – whether that’s adaptive cruise control, reversing cameras, adaptive braking, lane-departure warnings, or in-vehicle cameras. 

However, even with these advances in technology improving safety, there were 318 people killed in crashes in 2021 on New Zealand roads, indicating that road deaths remain stubbornly and tragically high.

Responding to the road toll 

A key component of NZI’s business is our dedicated Fleet Risk Management team. This team of experts work collaboratively with fleet owners around the country to create safer workplaces, improve driver performance, and identify trends that could help explain why accidents occur and therefore, how businesses could prevent them from happening in the first place.  

As part of this work, we set out to uncover what impact safety technology is having on New Zealand’s commercial drivers, from trucks and haulage through to courier and fleet cars. NZI’s newly released Improving Road Safety Through Technology report provides insights on awareness, understanding and usage of these new driving technologies – including a potential disconnect between the organisations implementing the technology and the drivers expected to use it.

Is safety tech actually a distraction? 

An independent research agency asked drivers to describe their major concerns when out on the road.

Interestingly, a fifth of respondents cited safety warnings or alerts from in-vehicle safety technology as a potential distraction.

Many manufacturers now have a higher level of standard technology in their vehicles, which is having a positive effect. However, our research uncovered a lack of understanding around how the technology works and therefore, some reservations about using it.

As the technology in vehicles becomes increasingly complex, we need to consider how well it’s understood, and what training is provided on how to use it. Otherwise it could be seen as a blinking light or beep from the dash that can potentially distract us.

Here are some key stats from NZI’s report:

•        9 in 10 fleet drivers understood Adaptive Cruise Control very well or quite well, but 2 in 10 said they had opted to disable  the feature

•        8 in 10 understood Lane Departure Warning very well or quite well, but 1 in 4 had disabled it

•        8 in 10 understood Lane Centering well or quite well, but 1 in 4 had disabled it

In addition to these supportive features, some drivers were disabling technology with clear safety benefits that ought to be left on:

•        1 in 10 had disabled Traction Control

•        1 in 7 had disabled Stability Control

•        1 in 7 had disabled Adaptive Headlights

No hats on the dash, please 

I’ve been with NZI for nearly six years and have seen first-hand the wariness that persists from some drivers towards technology. One recent example is a truck driver who put his hat over the in-cab camera as he didn’t want the technology recording him, preventing the system from detecting and alerting him to fatigue or distraction.  This speaks to a lack of understanding about the technology, as footage is only recorded when the facial monitoring system detects fatigue. 

The report’s findings — that drivers aren’t just overlooking some technology but actively going through the process of disabling it — comes from a mix of motivations: 

•        a preference for more independent driving; 

•        a perception that the technology is distracting or counter-intuitive; and 

•        a sense that roading infrastructure, especially in terms of lane markings, might not be sufficiently developed for technology such as Lane Departure to function smoothly and reliably.

More training needed to use ADAS technology effectively

Interestingly, NZI’s Improving Road Safety Through Technology report notes that while a large percentage of drivers surveyed believe it’s worthwhile having technology in their vehicle, and that it makes the roads safer, there is work to do in helping them understand the benefits and how to use the features correctly. 

While ADAS safety technologies have advanced a great deal in recent years, our research shows that 43% of drivers surveyed said they knew little about these tools. Despite the clear safety benefits, our research also found that education and training around these tools is lacking, with 57% of those fleet drivers surveyed saying they had received no training in how to use the ADAS features in the fleet vehicle they drive. 

This suggests more training is needed to help drivers understand how to use the technology effectively, and to develop a positive attitude toward it, so that they become second nature.

Get Fleet Fit

We are seeing compelling data from overseas that shows a reduction in accidents thanks to safety technologies. Getting the best results out of these technologies, however, requires a collaborative effort across the industry.

From the supplier end, with reps at dealerships, through to third party seminars and courses, to in-house approaches among businesses, there needs to be several avenues for drivers to be trained and educated in the new technology.

My hope is that NZI’s report will play a part in educating drivers and fleet managers on the benefits of ADAS technologies and support New Zealand businesses to implement them successfully through effective training.

June 2022

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