It should come as no surprise that a new study from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has found that drivers massively overestimate the capabilities of vehicle automation systems. Nor should it shock that exactly how the tech is titled seems to be a factor in how its functionality is perceived.
The IIHS gave over 2000 drivers the names of five assistance systems, omitting the brand each belonged to. Autopilot (Tesla), Traffic Jam Assist (Audi/Acura), Super Cruise), Driving Assistant Plus (BMW) and ProPilot Assist (Nissan) were all on the list. Without being told anything other than the name of each, the participates were asked if particular actions were safe while using the systems.
The result? 48 per cent reckoned it was safe to take their hands off the wheel while using Autopilot, compared to 33 per cent for Pro Pilot and 21 per cent for Traffic Jam Assist.
In fact, Autopilot topped each of the results by some margin. 34 per cent thought it was safe to talk on a mobile phone with Autopilot enabled, while 16 per cent said it was OK to text and eight per cent reckoned watching a film was fine. As if that wasn’t scary enough, six per cent thought sleeping and using Autopilot was fine, compared to three per cent for each of the other systems.
“Tesla’s user manual says clearly that the Autopilot’s steering function is a ‘hands-on feature,’ but that message clearly hasn’t reached everybody,” IIHS President David Harkey said, adding, “Manufacturers should consider what message the names of their systems send to people.”
A second IIHS study meanwhile looked at the information displayed by Mercedes’ Drive Pilot system. 80 volunteers were sat in front of a POV video showing the system in action, and were “asked about the operating status of the adaptive cruise control and lane-centring features”. Half were given some basic training about Drive Pilot before the test began.
The majority of the un-trained group “struggled to identify when lane centering was inactive,” and even in the other batch of people, not everyone was able to explain why lane assist wasn’t functioning.
“Current levels of automation could potentially improve safety…However, unless drivers have a certain amount of knowledge and comprehension, these new features also have the potential to create new risks,” Harkey concluded.