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Most of the new cars in dealer showrooms in Missouri and around the country feature an impressive array of advanced safety features, and some of them are even equipped with sophisticated autonomous crash prevention systems that monitor traffic and road conditions and can take over the driving duties in an emergency. Road safety experts say that recent advances in electronic safety equipment could save thousands of lives each year, but some scientists and academics are not so sure.

In an article published in the March edition of the Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making, a University of California San Diego professor and a NASA scientist argue that modern passenger vehicle safety features could actually make some types of car accident more likely because drivers are not yet familiar with them. They say that the aviation industry experienced a similar safety setback in the 1930s when the first automatic pilot systems were introduced.

The biggest problem according to these dubious experts is that many motorists overestimate the capabilities of electronic safety features and turn their attention to tasks other than driving when they are engaged. This can be particularly dangerous when adaptive cruise control systems are used to maintain a safe distance at highway speeds. If the car ahead veers to avoid a disabled vehicle or debris in the roadway, drivers who are not paying proper attention are likely to crash.

Modern automobile electronic systems can also provide crucial clues to accident investigators because they keep detailed records of both vehicle speed and driver behavior. When their clients suffered injuries in an accident that may have been caused by a distracted driver, experienced personal injury attorneys may seek to have the vehicles involved inspected so that this information can be retrieved and examined. Inspections might also reveal evidence of shoddy repairs, neglected maintenance or malfunctioning safety systems.