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Could new car technology make you a worse driver?

3D frame rendering of a carFrom sat navs to cruise control, as motorists get more and more used to having a computerised helping hand at the wheel, are we in danger of losing basic driving skills?

Buy a new car today and you can be almost certain it will have some form of driver assistance technology.

The new Mercedes E Class, for example, has on-board safety technology that is market leading.

Safety first

The car detects emergency situations, so if you slam on the brakes, the Braking Assist System (BAS) kicks in to create a much higher stopping force than most drivers are able to generate themselves.

Essentially, the computer takes over braking and helps the car stop more effectively, reducing the stopping distance and thereby cutting the risk of accidents, according to the car manufacturer.

The vehicle also features an Electronic Stability Program (ESP) which stops the car from flying into a spin.

It detects the direction and speed in which the car is moving and applies braking force to whichever wheels of the car are necessary for it to stay in a straight line.

Both of these accident prevention features are brought together by a safety system designed for the passengers inside the car.

Called Pre-Safe, it uses information from BAS and ESP to tighten passenger seat belts, ready airbags and move the front passenger seat into the safest possible position in the event of an accident.

Problem-free parking

Of course, your average motorist won’t be popping out to snap up a bargain Mercedes E Class any time soon.

But this technology is increasingly filtering down to mainstream motors.

Tim Pollard, associate editor at CAR magazine, cites the new Ford Focus as an example.

He says: "This is a mainstream car which will monitor the white lines on the road for you and steer the car back into lane if you’re wandering around.

"It will even read traffic signs for you, parallel park automatically and slam on the brakes if the car in front stops suddenly."

Is technology a help or hindrance?

Besides the Ford Focus, many new cars, including the Toyota Prius and most new Lexus models, have similar automated or assisted parking systems on board.

These systems use sensors to  detect the size of the parking space, before automatically steering you into the tightest of spots with inch-perfect accuracy.

The driver is required to operate the accelerator, gears and brake, but is aided by visual and audible signals throughout the process that tell you what to do.

With computer assistance like this to hand, the car practically parks itself.

Drivers being marginalised

But could an over reliance on systems like these see basic driving skills such as parallel parking eroded over time?

Pollard thinks so. He says: "Modern cars have a frankly baffling array of tech onboard – in the long term the driver is being marginalised."

Of course, these technologies are designed to make driving safer and they have to go through rigorous testing before being approved for the mass market.

But problems could arise if drivers too reliant on assistive technology, then find themselves having to drive without it, says Gareth Kloet, head of motor at Confused.com.

He says: "If a driver relied on parking assistance technology every day for an extended period of time, then chances are their ability to parallel park manually would be reduced.

"If they had to go back to a manual model, they would probably have an increased chance of an accident than a driver who hadn’t been using assistive technology to park.

"Accidents of course lead to a rise in car insurance premiums, so the technology does have knock-on effects."

What do you think?

If all cars are eventually fitted with these assistive technology features as standard, should we really be comfortable to sit back and relinquish control of our vehicles to a computer? Or do we need to be more wary?

We’d love to hear your thoughts. You can leave your view in the comments section below.