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Fear, uncertainty & misunderstanding of AVs, ADAS features remain

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Market Trends | Technology
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Most U.S. drivers either express fear (66%) or uncertainty (25%) about fully self-driving vehicles — a fear that hasn’t decreased since spiking last March, according to AAA.

However, interest in semi-autonomous technologies such as reverse automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane keeping assistance remains high, according to a AAA survey held in January about consumers’ thoughts on autonomous vehicles. The results infer that to alleviate concerns, the industry should continue to advance vehicle technologies reasonably and with overall consistency in performance.

“There has been an increase in consumer fear over the past few years,” said Greg Brannon, AAA director of automotive engineering research, in a news release. “Given the numerous and well-publicized incidents involving current vehicle technologies, it’s not surprising that people are apprehensive about their safety.”

In California, where there are a rapidly growing number of AVs, Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-District 17) has introduced a bill that would require additional data reporting from AV companies to the Department of Motor Vehicles and impose strict financial penalties for companies that don’t.

Beginning July 31, 2025, AV manufacturers would be required to report “any vehicle collision, traffic violation, or disengagement, as defined, or the assault or harassment of any passenger or safety driver, that involves a manufacturer’s vehicle in California regardless of whether the vehicle is in the testing or deployment phase,” according to the bill

Despite people’s fears of AVs, interest in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) remains high. AAA’s survey found that nearly two-thirds of respondents want reverse AEB (65%), AEB (63%), or lane keeping assistance (62%) on their next vehicle. For interest to remain high, it’s crucial to ensure consistency in the performance and naming of the systems, AAA said.

Most respondents said they believe AEB will stop a vehicle when another car, children, adult pedestrians, or bicyclists are in front of or behind it. AAA research released in February found that reverse AEB systems prevented a collision in 1 of 40 test runs when backing up as a subject vehicle crossed behind the test vehicle. Reverse AEB systems prevented 10 out of 20 run-ins with a stationary child target behind the test vehicle.

“AAA believes that to alleviate consumer concerns, ADAS performance should reflect reasonable and safe scenarios with a clear understanding of the limitations,” the release says. “Advanced vehicle safety technology should enhance driver awareness rather than give the impression of replacing a vigilant driver.”

When AAA asked if there are cars available that drive themselves while you sleep, which isn’t yet available for consumer purchase, 4 in 10 respondents were unsure or thought they could buy a car that drives itself while they sleep.

“AAA wants to collaborate with automakers to establish uniformity in system naming and performance across the industry,” Brannon said. “By working together, we can assist consumers in understanding the technology present in their vehicles and educate them on how, when, and where to use such systems properly. This initiative will help instill confidence in the drivers of the cars of tomorrow, which may be equipped with greater levels of automated technologies.”

Another safety issue consumers may face is their ADAS working incorrectly post-repair if repairers don’t follow, or are pushed by billpayers, to not follow OEM repair procedures to ensure proper repairs and calibrations.

Drivers surveyed last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said they’ve had issues with ADAS after repairs. It wasn’t quantified to what degree insurance claims factored into the quality of repair, but diagnostic companies have indicated that claims cost mitigation efforts, insurer pushback and failure to prioritize adherence to OEM procedures can be contributing factors.

The survey findings were released shortly after vehicle diagnostic companies spoke to Repairer Driven News about the importance of following OEM repair procedures. AirPro Diagnostics and Repairify said doing so is essential given the advancements in technology to ensure safe roadways.

IIHS said Tuesday it will introduce a new rating program to encourage automakers to incorporate more robust safeguards into their partial driving automation systems.

Out of the first 14 systems tested, only one earned an “acceptable” rating. Two rated “marginal” and 11 rated “poor.”

“We evaluated partial automation systems from BMW, Ford, General Motors, Genesis, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Tesla, and Volvo,” said IIHS President David Harkey in a news release. “Most of them don’t include adequate measures to prevent misuse and keep drivers from losing focus on what’s happening on the road.”

The Teammate system available on the Lexus LS is the only system tested that earned an “acceptable” rating.

The GMC Sierra and Nissan Ariya are both available with partial automation systems and earned “marginal” ratings. The LS and Ariya each offer an alternative system that earned a “poor” rating.

The Ford Mustang Mach-E, Genesis G90, Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, Tesla Model 3, and Volvo S90 earned “poor” ratings, in some cases for more than one version of partial automation.

The ratings only apply to the specific models tested even though systems with the same names may be used on multiple vehicles from the same manufacturer, IIHS noted.

“Some drivers may feel that partial automation makes long drives easier, but there is little evidence it makes driving safer,” Harkey said. “As many high-profile crashes have illustrated, it can introduce new risks when systems lack the appropriate safeguards.”

Vehicles with partial automation are not self-driving — though automakers sometimes use names that imply their systems are. The human driver must still handle many routine driving tasks, monitor how well the automation is performing, and remain ready to take over if anything goes wrong, IIHS said. While most partial automation systems have some safeguards in place to help ensure drivers are focused and ready, these initial tests show that they’re not robust enough.

“The shortcomings vary from system to system,” said IIHS Senior Research Scientist Alexandra Mueller, who led the development of the new program. “Many vehicles don’t adequately monitor whether the driver is looking at the road or prepared to take control. Many lack attention reminders that come soon enough and are forceful enough to rouse a driver whose mind is wandering. Many can be used despite occupants being unbelted or when other vital safety features are switched off.”

Today’s partial automation technology — which includes designated systems like Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise as well as feature bundles that provide similar capabilities — uses cameras, radar, or other sensors to “see” the road and other vehicles. Adaptive cruise control (ACC), lane centering, and various other ADAS features are combined.

ACC maintains a driver-selected speed but will automatically slow to keep a set following distance from a slower-moving vehicle ahead and then accelerate when the way is clear. Lane centering continuously adjusts the steering to help the driver keep the vehicle centered in the travel lane. Automated lane changing is also becoming more common.

The new IIHS ratings aim to encourage safeguards that can help reduce intentional misuse and prolonged attention lapses as well as to discourage certain design characteristics that increase risk in other ways — such as systems that can be operated when AEB is turned off or seat belts are unbuckled, IIHS said.

Scores are awarded based on tests conducted over multiple trials, and some performance areas are weighted more heavily than others.

When possible, tests are conducted on a closed test track. For certain tests that must be done on public roads, a second IIHS employee sits in the front passenger seat to monitor the driving environment and the vehicle systems.

In some cases, manufacturers are already making changes to their systems through software updates, which may result in adjustments to these ratings. The two Tesla systems evaluated, for example, used software that preceded the most recent recall in December 2023.

IIHS said it expects improvements will be rapid.

“These results are worrying, considering how quickly vehicles with these partial automation systems are hitting our roadways,” Harkey said. “But there’s a silver lining if you look at the performance of the group as a whole. No single system did well across the board, but in each category, at least one system performed well. That means the fixes are readily available and, in some cases, may be accomplished with nothing more than a simple software update.”

IIHS says effective driver monitoring systems should be able to detect if the driver’s head or eyes are not directed at the road and whether the driver’s hands are on the steering wheel or ready to grab it if necessary.

To evaluate this capability, IIHS engineers record what happens when the lens of the driver monitoring camera is blocked, the driver’s face is obscured, the driver is looking down, and the driver’s hands are not on the steering wheel. For systems that allow hands-free driving, the engineers record what happens when the driver’s hands are holding a foam block the approximate size of a cell phone. Systems should not activate under these conditions and, if they’re already switched on, they should issue an alert.

None of the 14 systems meet all the requirements, although the Ford systems come very close, IIHS said. Ford BlueCruise and Ford Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go and Lane Centering Assist immediately issued alerts when the driver’s face or the camera lens was covered, for example, but failed to detect when the driver’s hands were occupied with another task.

The BMW system didn’t react when the camera lens or driver’s face was covered, and the Mercedes-Benz system lacked a driver-monitoring camera altogether. Both vehicles detected when the driver’s hands weren’t on the steering wheel.

IIHS says timely and persistent attention reminders are also key. When a partial automation system detects that the driver’s eyes aren’t directed at the road or their hands aren’t ready to take over steering, it should begin a dual-mode alert, such as an audible and visual warning, within 10 seconds, according to IIHS. Before the 20-second mark, it should add a third mode of alert or begin an emergency procedure to slow the vehicle.

Lexus Teammate, both Ford systems, and GM Super Cruise meet all of those requirements. When the test driver deliberately looked away from the road and held the foam block in both hands, Teammate began audible and visual alerts after four seconds and began an emergency slowdown procedure after 16 seconds.

Both the hands-on Nissan ProPILOT Assist with Navi-link, Nissan hands-free ProPILOT Assist 2.0 systems, and Tesla Full Self-Driving performed almost as well, IIHS said.

The hands-on Nissan system provided audible and visual alerts about six seconds after driver disengagement, but didn’t provide a third type of alert until around 21 seconds had passed when it pulsed the brakes, IIHS said. Seven other systems didn’t provide dual-mode alerts within the first 15 seconds.

Another key safety ability partial automation systems need is appropriate emergency escalation procedures to minimize the danger to occupants and other road users if the driver doesn’t respond to those attention reminders, IIHS said.

Regardless of how many different modes of alerts they issue, systems should begin a slowdown procedure within 35 seconds of driver disengagement, according to IIHS.

“Drivers who ignore alerts for that long are either in distress or misusing the system. The system should send an SOS message to emergency responders or a 24-hour help center, and the driver should be prevented from restarting the automation for the remainder of the drive.”

Of the 14 systems tested, only GM meets all these requirements. Five systems include two of the three emergency procedures, and five include one.

Lexus’ combination of Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Lane Tracing Assist system and the two Genesis systems all fail to take any emergency action if the driver disengages from driving and does not respond to repeated warnings, IIHS said.

Another group of requirements ensures drivers stay involved in decision-making, such as all lane changes being initiated or confirmed by the driver. When traffic causes the ACC to bring the vehicle to a complete stop, it shouldn’t automatically resume unless the system can confirm the driver is looking at the road and no more than two minutes have passed.

The lane-centering feature shouldn’t switch off automatically when the driver makes manual steering adjustments within the lane.

More systems performed well in these categories than any of the others. GM Super Cruise and Tesla Full Self-Driving are the only ones that will make a lane change without any driver input. Super Cruise and both Tesla systems are the only ones that switch off lane centering when the driver does any manual steering.

Many systems allow ACC to resume automatically after a stop of more than two minutes or when the driver isn’t looking at the road. Both Tesla systems and BMW Active Driving Assist Pro will resume ACC in both scenarios, for example, while several others will restart in one of the two situations. Volvo Pilot Assist is one of seven systems that won’t automatically resume in either scenario.

“There is little evidence that partial automation has any safety benefits, so it’s essential that these systems can only be used when proven safety features are engaged,” IIHS said. “These include seat belts, AEB, and lane departure prevention.”

For a good rating in this category, a partial automation system shouldn’t switch on if the driver is unbelted or AEB or lane departure prevention isn’t active. If already in operation and the driver unfastens their seat belt, the system should immediately begin its multi-mode, driver-disengagement attention reminders. It must also be impossible to switch off AEB or lane departure prevention if the automation is engaged.

The hands-free ProPILOT Assist 2.0, Lexus Teammate and GM Super Cruise systems are met all these requirements. The hands-on ProPILOT Assist with Navi-link and the BMW system comes close, but each deactivates without issuing an alert when a key safety feature is disengaged. This is dangerous because the driver may not be aware that they need to resume full control of the vehicle, according to IIHS.

In contrast, most of the systems fail multiple safety feature requirements. Volvo Pilot Assist, for example, deactivates without an alert when the driver unbuckles, can be activated with lane departure prevention turned off, and remains active if the feature is switched off mid-drive. The two Genesis systems fail all safety feature requirements.


Featured image: 3D rendering of autonomous electric vehicles with artificial intelligence and self-driving. (Credit: Kinwun/iStock)

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