How Tech Can Affect Your Driving Skills for Better or Worse

Modern safety technology in cars are diminshing drivers’ skills.

Once upon a time, a driver’s only safety features was their brain, their eyes and their ears. Fast forward to now, and you’ve got cameras and sensors and radar and just about any kind of device packed into a car, technology that would normally go into an airplane.

There’s nothing wrong with these features, but relying on them too much can weaken your driving skills. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep some key driving skills sharp no matter how high-tech your car is. After all, you never know when those devices might go offline.

Car Safety Technology Can Weaken Defensive Driving Skills

To avoid a close call with a vehicle or an obstacle or even an animal calls for quick thinking and of course, your undivided attention. Before the 2010s, every second your eyes spent away from the windshield was to flirt with danger. Then came all the lane departure warnings and blind spot detectors, and now your car was doing some of the work for you.

But a warning system, at least until self-driving cars hit the roads, serves mainly as an alert. You still need to know how to avoid an impact or do a hard brake if a situation calls for it. Sure, some cars come with features like autonomous braking now, but there are countless other scenarios where a snap decision will mean the difference between escape or injury (or worse).

With that said, you can keep your defensive driving skills sharp by doing basic things such as checking your blind spots and using your side and rear mirrors. You can also kick things up a notch by visiting a performance driving school or defensive driving courses, where experts will teach you advanced techniques.

Reverse Parking Skills Are Going in the Wrong Direction

No one wants to be that guy or girl who needs twenty tries to back up into a parking spot. And for many people, they’re no longer that person because their backup camera does the work for them.

That’s precisely why the skill of reverse parking is dying off. Between 2008 and 2011, the sale of cars in the U.S. equipped with backup cameras more than doubled from 32% to 68%. And 94% of 2016 car models had backup cameras installed in them.

But these cameras can fail. A simple electrical issue can turn the backup screen blank, forcing you to rely on your eyes and judgement. And what if you’re not that sharp to begin with? Or imagine you or your kid is learning to drive, and the instructor says you can’t use the backup camera during a test (oh yes, it happens)?

That’s why it’s advisable for you to master or at least improve your reverse parking skills. A simple fix is to practice at an empty parking lot or in your driveway on a day the street is not busy. Dedicate a few minutes here and there, and aim to park your vehicle as straight as possible in as little time as possible.

Our Parallel Parking Skills Are Getting Out of Line

Parallel parking often puts new and even experienced drivers in panic mode. And hey, no one wants to bump into another car or get honked at by a line of impatient drivers.

So here comes Park Assist. Drivers assume position and the car parallel parks itself without you having to worry about judging distances or figuring out angles and what not.

But Park Assist can turn into a “park-attack”, such as in one infamous case of a BMW accident in Florida in 2014. The driver, 27 year-old Jonathon Libratore, switched on his Park Assist feature while trying to park at a Target store. Unfortunately, his BMW sped across a grass island and smashed into another vehicle. The good news is that no one was injured.

The likelihood of that happening to you is very low. Nevertheless, it highlights an important point – technology has its limits, limits which can turn out to be dangerous.

Parallel parking is an important skill for you to have whether your car can do it for your or not. You can practice this skill, for example, if neighbours or friends have left a space in between their cars, which you can try to fitting into.

If that’s not available or the street is too busy, you can use a tutorial such as this one to give you a better sense of how it’s done. Also, try to remain observant when driving with others, especially if they’re good at parallel parking to learn how it’s done.

Our Navigation Skills Are at a Loss

There was a time not too long ago when your memory was your map, your compass. You needed to use your knowledge of landmarks and use a mental picture to orient yourself. Those days are gone.

With Google Maps, Waze and tons of other apps at your fingertips, you don’t need to remember anything now. All you need is a phone, a full charge and a reliable service provider.

And that’s where problems begin. You have a phone, but what happens if you forget to charge it or you don’t have LTE and you drive into a dead zone? You’re on your own…

That’s why it doesn’t hurt to keep your navigation skills sharp. How so? Try to memorize routes you commonly use, especially their surroundings. You can go the old school route by using direction lists (step-by-step instructions on how to reach your destination) to learn the trip by heart.

Driving Skills Without Devices – Still Got It?

 It’s vital to check from time to time whether our driving skills need improvement.

Now it’s time for some honest self-reflection here. More and more of us use technology in some way to help us drive with added ease and comfort, meaning that some of our skills might slide a bit.

It’s nothing to lose sleep over or feel embarrassed about, just something to give thought to. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Would I feel unsure or nervous if I couldn’t use a certain device/feature?
  • Is there a driving skill I struggled with that I never improved?
  • Do I allow myself to get more distracted behind the wheel than I did before?

Realistically, answering yes to anyone of these could mean that there’s a specific driving skill you can improve upon. Of course, you know better than anyone else what that skill is.

But Safety Technology Can be a Training Wheel

As we mentioned near the beginning, safety devices in cars are not your enemy – they can be your friend when used right. And that brings us to our final point: safety technology can help you improve your driving skills. You just have to use it wisely.

Think of little you or your kids when they were just learning to ride a bike. The training wheel wasn’t going to stay on forever, but it served its purpose until there was a sense of balance and control. The same goes for safety devices.

Consider how the safety technology mentioned above can do this:

Backup cameras – Instead of just looking at the backup camera, use it as a guide. That means learning how to position yourself using just your mirrors, but using the lines on the backup screen to confirm if you’re angled correctly.

Park Assist – If your car can parallel park itself, great. Now actively watch where it stops, how it turns in and how it adjusts itself. That’ll give you an idea of how to angle your vehicle using your own hands.

Crash warning systems – A blind spot warning can give you a sense of distance between your vehicle and others if you find the task a bit nerve-wracking. To improve your blind spot checking, look in your side mirrors as a car approaches and as it disappears, and then make note of when you feel the warning system buzz.

Navigation/GPS – We mentioned a “hack” above for this already, but we’ll say it again. Use your phone as a means to memorize a list of directions, which you’ll use to guide you as look for the signs that’ll point you to your destination.

A Balanced View of Car Safety Features

 Car safety technology is neither good nor bad if used appropriately.

The use of safety devices while driving is neither good nor bad. It just depends on how you use them. We definitely find that too many drivers use these features as a crutch, when they should function only as a guide.

Enjoy your car’s safety technology but use it to enhance the driving skills you have or should have, instead of letting them do all the work for you. By doing that, you’ll stay sharp behind the wheel just in case those devices become unavailable.