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With autonomous technology behind the wheel, driving skills begin to hit the skids

Driver-assist technology is spreading rapidly from luxury cars to everyday vehicles. But the automated aids, which are aimed at improving safety, are having an unintended consequence: They’re degrading driving skills.

If your car can hit the brakes in an emergency and check your blind spots, will that make you a worse driver? Increasingly, automakers are worrying it may.

Driver-assist technology that keeps cars in their lanes, maintains a safe distance from other vehicles, warns of unseen traffic and slams the brakes to avoid rear-end crashes are rapidly spreading from luxury cars to everyday Hondas, Nissans and Chevys. But these automated aids aimed at improving safety are having an unintended consequence: They’re degrading driving skills.

“There are lots of concerns about people checking out and we are trying to monitor that now,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Everything we do that makes the driving task a little easier means that people are going to pay a little bit less attention when they’re driving.”

For carmakers trying to address deteriorating driver skills, the stakes are immense. U.S. roadway deaths jumped 14 percent over the last two years, with more than 40,000 people dying in crashes in 2016. While speeding and more congested roadways bear some of the blame, distraction is another key culprit. Data released by the federal government show manipulation of handheld devices while driving, including texting or surfing the web, has been on the rise.

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The semi-autonomous features that are the building blocks of tomorrow’s driverless cars were designed to compensate for inattentiveness behind the wheel. Instead, they may be enabling drivers to place too much faith in the new technology.

The auto industry is “terrified” about the unwanted side effects of their popular new features, and…

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