Studies show drivers are confused with how driver assistance works in cars

Investigators

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – New studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show people are confused about how driver assistance works. That misleading information about those systems can lead to behaviors that can result in crashes.

There was a time when cars had simple controls: turn signals, wipers, climate control knobs, and gauges in the instrument panel like oil pressure, battery power, and fuel levels.

With those items, most everybody knew how to make them work and what they meant.

But, many new cars are becoming so complicated that researchers believe they’re confusing drivers. That’s a safety hazard.

“As this information becomes more complex for the driver, it’s important to realize that they need to simplify this information and that’s it’s really intuitive,” said IIHS president David Harkey.

Automation levels in vehicles are broken into several levels:

A Level 0 system is one where the human driver does everything. Level 1 systems have an automated system that can assist the human driver with one part of the driving task. With Level 2, the automated system can help with multiple parts of the driving task, but the human must continue to be actively engaged.

Level 3 systems handle all of the driving tasks without human engagement, but the driver must stand by to intervene in case of a system failure. With Level 4, input from the human driver is only needed in certain conditions or places. Level 5 is the most automated as the system can handle all the tasks in all conditions.

Vehicle systems vary in terms of how it conveys information back to the driver. Those displays are important because they tell the driver when a system is temporarily inactive.

“If you aren’t familiar with that vehicle, you may not respond appropriately or may not respond in time,” said Harkey.

New vehicles assistance systems are getting so complicated that drivers no longer can just jump in them for the first time and go.

“There is value in doing some orientations and training, whether at the dealership or some other channels,’’ said Harkey.

The IIHS thinks independent training is better because, once those vehicles enter used car market in few years, they’ll be no dealer to train the new owners how to use them.

There are also problems with the names of these systems. They can be dangerously misleading.

“What they name the system has implication for what a driver understands,’’ said Harkey.

Recent crashes of Tesla vehicles with Autopilot showed some drivers disregarded warnings to keep their hands on the wheel and misused the autopilot system.

The IIHS said it conducted a survey of over 2,000 drivers and found a name like autopilot creates misconceptions.

“Almost half of the survey respondents indicated they would take their hands off the steering wheel, and almost 6 percent thought they could take a nap while the system was in autopilot,” he said.

The IIHS also said the word “Assist” is better than “Pilot” in naming the systems. It added that it will work with automakers to find better names for these systems in the future.

“We’ve got to make sure we aren’t introducing any risk to the driving tasks as a result of the consumer not being informed and fully educated about what these systems can do,’’ said Harkey.

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