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Auto safety tech can't stand up to perils of distracted driving

For all of the technological achievements we have made as a society, Americans continue to be their own worst hazards. This is especially evident in the realm of driving. Seat belts have long been standard-issue in every new vehicle as well as the subject of safety campaigns and laws. Yet failure to wear a seat belt is often cited as the cause of death or a major contributing factor in car accident fatalities.

Distracted driving is another example. While engineers work tirelessly to invent new and more effective vehicle safety systems, these features are of little help when many drivers will not keep their eyes on the road or their hands on the wheel.

Recently, Ford announced that it will be including a feature in its 2015 Ford Focus called Enhanced Transitional Stability. It is essentially a feature that reduces dangerous skidding by making electronic stability control more responsive. Ford boasts that ETS can accurately predict a skid before it starts and strategically apply brakes 100 to 200 milliseconds sooner than electronic stability control alone.

Engineers understand that those milliseconds (about the length of a blink) could mean the difference between an accident and a near-miss. But this outcome assumes that the driver is paying attention in the first place.

Opening your phone and reading a text message takes about three to four seconds, on average. Responding to texts takes even longer. And drivers who text rarely limit themselves to just one message behind the wheel.

If 200 milliseconds could make a life-or-death difference, how much higher is the risk of a car accident when drivers are distracted for four seconds or longer?

Source: USA Today, "Ford Focus gives head start to anti-skid protection," Chris Woodyard, Feb. 9, 2015

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