Partially automated driving systems are often enticing, but new research reveals that automakers may be over-selling the evolving technology, which can lead drivers to be overly confident and misled about what it can do and handle. Marketing campaigns can inflate expectations, create over reliance, and lead to dangerous scenarios on the road.
Those are the findings of a new report released earlier this month by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit research and education association that warned that partially automated driving systems (also known as active driving assistance systems or Level 2 automation), should not be confused with self-driving ones.
“Based on data collected from our research, subtle differences in tone and emphasis significantly influenced people’s understanding of the technology and their expectations of its capability,” David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation, said in a statement. “These systems assist the driver and take some of the stress out of driving, but they don’t eliminate the need for drivers to pay attention.”
“Impact of Information on Consumer Understanding of a Partially Automated Driving System,” examined drivers’ perceptions of what they think their cars can do when they interact with the technology based on how it is presented.
For the study, 90 participants were briefed on an active driving assistance system with a descriptive, but fictitious name, before driving. Half of the participants were told their system was called AutonoDrive and were given training that emphasized its capabilities and conveniences to the driver.
The other half were told the same system was named DriveAssist, and their training emphasized the system’s limitations and driver responsibility.
Researchers said that responses by both groups indicated that overall they understood that they were still required to pay attention to the road while using the system, but the AutonoDrive group reported greater confidence — and in some cases overconfidence — in the system, compared to the DriveAssist group.
After completing the training and driving the test vehicle, 42% of the participants using AutonoDrive said its name made the system sound more capable than it is, while only 11% of DriveAssist users said so.
When asked if the system can take action to avoid a collision when a vehicle directly to the side begins steering into it, 42% of the AutonoDrive group said yes, but only 4% of the DriveAssist group did. When asked if the system can automatically reduce speed on a tight curve without the driver doing anything, 56% of the AutonoDrive group said yes; 27% of the Drive Assist did so.
Results were compounded by a greater likelihood to report willingness to engage in potentially distracting or risky behaviors, like talking on a cell phone, while using the system among participants who received the training that stressed capabilities rather than limitations.
A previous AAA Foundation survey, which indicated that 40 % of Americans said they expect active driving assistance systems with names like Autopilot and ProPILOT to have the ability to drive the car by itself, was consistent with the results of the recent survey.
However, the safe use of these systems, the safety group said, depends on the driver having an accurate understanding of the technology’s capabilities and limitations. It recommended that automakers provide consumers with information that accurately reflects what they will experience on the road, including the need for driver engagement. In addition, it urged car dealers to take responsibility to educate buyers, “ but not to oversell a vehicle’s bells and whistles.”
“Automakers are in the business of selling vehicles,” Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research, said in a statement. “But, their marketing campaigns, materials and consumer information should not mislead motorists.” Words matter, he said, noting that drivers also need to take responsibility by taking the time to understand the capabilities and limitations of the new technology.
“We can do better by taking care to be more realistic in setting expectations for consumers such that the sale of a new vehicle does not come at the expense of safety,” Nelson added.
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