Over the past decade, our vehicles have become more technologically advanced. It is quite common for a car on the road today to be equipped with modern driver-assist features such as lane keep, emergency braking, maintaining a set following distance and automatically adjusting speed with the flow of traffic.
The progress is exciting to watch, with many drivers capable of seeing the through line to future fully autonomous driving. Unfortunately, many others are completely unaware of the current limitations of the various systems. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) finds that a significant portion of participants believed these Level 2 driver-assist systems have reached a higher tier of sophistication than they actually have.
Participants in the study by were asked questions about two partial autonomous systems. Which system they were asked about (Autopilot, Traffic Jam Assist, Super Cruise, Driving Assistant Plus, ProPilot Assist) was chosen at random.
Manufacturer names were not given, but the names of the driving systems were. When asked about Tesla's Autopilot, 48% of participants stated that driving with "hands off of the steering wheel" would be a safe operation. This compared with 33% for Nissan's ProPilot Assist, and 27% for Cadillac's Super Cruise. Six percent of participants actually believed it would be safe to take a nap while using Autopilot, with 3% stating the same for the competing systems.
"Current levels of automation could potentially improve safety," says IIHS President David Harkey. "However, unless drivers have a certain amount of knowledge and comprehension, these new features also have the potential to create new risks."
Part of this misunderstanding comes from unfamiliarity with actually using such systems. While the technology has become more common, only a tiny fraction of vehicles on the road are capable of even basic autonomous functions. Once you begin to use a system like Autopilot, ProPilot and Super Cruise, their abilities and limitations become clear. You adjust to the new way of driving like the average driver can seamlessly shift to using cruise control.
But first impressions also matter, and IIHS says the names of many of these systems allude to a self driving system that is more capable than current technology actually allows.
"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," Harkey says. "Manufacturers should consider what message the names of their systems send to people."