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How safe are automobile ‘safety’ systems?

| Mar 3, 2021 | Car Accidents

Highway safety advocates say automakers have made great strides in delivering technology on newer automobiles to protect motorists and their passengers.

However, a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows some drivers may be too reliant on these gadgets, making them more prone to distracted driving and a greater risk to others.

IIHS study focuses on two types of advanced systems

The nonprofit IIHS teamed with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to research how partially-automated driving systems may affect driver engagement. Researchers split 20 volunteers into two groups:

  • One group drove a Land Rover with adaptive cruise control (ACC), which keeps cars traveling at a driver’s chosen rate of speed, but slows the vehicle down to keep it safely behind the car in front
  • The other group drove a Volvo with Pilot Assist, which combines lane-centering technology, designed to keep a vehicle centered in a traffic lane, with ACC

Drivers in both groups drove the vehicles for one month, with researchers examining how often they removed their hands from the steering wheel, checked their cellphones and took their attention off the road.

Findings show increasing reliance on these systems

Researchers say in the beginning, drivers showed very little change as they got used to the two systems. However, after a month, drivers using the Volvo’s Pilot Assist were 12 times more likely to take both hands off the wheel when they became used to how it worked.

The information is alarming as it reinforces concerns that drivers believe systems, such as Pilot Assist, Cadillac’s Super Cruise, Tesla’s Autopilot and Mercedes-Benz’s Intelligent Drive, are intended to replace the driver. However, these systems often have difficulty navigating common features on highways, and drivers need to be fully engaged while using them.

Researchers say more oversight and safeguards are needed

The IIHS says the data backs up its earlier call for automakers to install warning systems in vehicles alerting a driver when they take their eyes off the road or hands off the wheel. They say the government must also set standards and ratings for these systems.

The European New Car Assessment Program recently added a rating system to assess how well the technology controls a vehicle’s speed and steering. Safety experts say a significant number of crashes involving partially-automated systems in the U.S. show how dangerous these systems can be when drivers take them for granted.