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AAA Foundation: Drivers get distracted by car safety features

If asked what sort of distractions are common behind the wheel, most drivers in Oregon would likely answer with smartphone use, talking with passengers and eating/drinking. However, a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the use of vehicle safety features can make drivers just as inattentive as any of the above. In fact, it can significantly raise the risk for a car crash.

Researchers examined the safety features on the Tesla Model S, the Acura MDX, the Jeep Cherokee and a wide range of other vehicles. They pinpointed adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist as being the two most distracting features. The former adjusts the car's speed without driver input to maintain a safe following distance while the latter moves the steering wheel to avoid lane drifting.

What makes these systems sources of distraction is not unfamiliarity. The study actually found that those less familiar with them were less likely to drive distracted. The problem is that drivers overestimate the abilities of these features. Some even assume that they make the car virtually self-driving.

Some safety advocates claim that automakers are not doing their job in educating car owners about the limitations. Both features, after all, require drivers to stay alert and keep control of the steering wheel.

A distracted driver cannot excuse themselves by saying they were unaware of their car's limitations. They could be held liable for any damages their negligent actions cause. For the victim, a successful claim could cover the cost of medical treatments, lost wages and pain and suffering. Before filing, though, the victim may want a lawyer to evaluate the case in the light of Oregon's modified comparative negligence rule.

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