While no comprehensive standards or rating system exists for evaluating partially-automated vehicle safety technology, independent researchers examine the benefits and risks of these systems.
In many cases, studies show some of these devices may safeguard motorists against both serious and minor crashes. However, researchers say some technologies may be lulling drivers into a false sense of security.
Automatic braking shows the greatest promise
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) routinely studies partially autonomous systems affecting vehicles’ speed, steering and braking. The IIHS says the devices showing the most significant benefits are automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems. Here are the key takeaways:
- Data from two vehicles – Subaru and General Motors models – with rear AEB recorded 28% fewer property damage claims and 10% fewer collision claims
- Rear AEB significantly reduces fender benders and other minor accidents
- Front AEB reduces collision claims by 3% and property damage by 17%
- Front AEB has the greater potential to save lives and reduce the severity of injuries
Steering and speed control systems pose greater risks
While studies are mostly positive over emergency braking technology, others assisting drivers with speed control and steering may lead to distracted driving. The IIHS recently release its findings from a 30-day study focused on two systems:
- Adaptive cruise control: ACC keeps vehicles at a pre-established following distance depending upon the speed of the car in front.
- Lane-centering technology: LCT alerts a driver if their vehicle is in danger of wandering into another lane. Partially automated systems steer the vehicle back into the center of the lane it’s traveling in.
Neither of these systems is meant to be used without the driver’s full attention on the road. However, after the monthlong study using 20 volunteers, researchers found:
- Drivers showed little impact at first while getting used to the technology
- By the end of the month, drivers were twice as likely to be distracted when using both ACC and LCT
- Compared to driving without these systems, drivers were 12 times more likely to take their hands off the wheel
- Drivers relying on these systems routinely became distracted with their cellphones or adjusting controls on the vehicle’s console
The IIHS issues recommendations
With no standards currently in place for automakers, safety advocates urge manufacturers to equip vehicles with warning systems alerting drivers when their attention wanders. The IIHS says car companies must also do a better job educating drivers that this technology does not make their cars self-driving. They also need to take more precautions to guard against fatigued and distracted driving.