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AAA Study Shows Why Relying on ADAS Systems Can Be Tricky, Mainly If It Rains

One of the main pieces of criticism Tesla Autopilot received over the years is that it allegedly induces an overreliance on a system that is still in the beta phase of development. Even if it were fully developed, it would still not make the car fully autonomous, as Tesla has told regulators. The AAA has bad news for ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems), even the ones that are stable releases: they do not work as expected when it rains.
AAA Shows ADAS does not work as it should under rainfall 6 photos
AEB TestsAEB TestsLane Keeping AssistanceAEB TestsLane Keeping Assistance
Using simulated rainfall in a closed course track, the American Automobile Association discovered that AEB (automatic emergency braking) did not avoid crashes at 35 mph (56 kph) in 33% of the cases. At 25 mph (40 kph), the systems failed to stop in 17% of the test runs. Regarding lane-keeping assistants, they couldn’t remain within lane markers in 69% of the evaluations under rainfall.

AAA put some vehicles to the test in the closed course track of ARC (Automotive Research Center), which belongs to the Automobile Club of Southern California. The association did not disclose which these cars were. The rainfall simulation was performed with a precision inject nozzle placed above the windshield. Its function was to cover the entire windshield with water with the aid of a high-pressure pump and a water reservoir installed in the cargo area of the evaluated vehicles.

According to AAA, the water “did not reach the pavement or interact with the test vehicle’s tires.” That means that the rate of crashes can be even higher in real-life situations. The wet pavement naturally reduces tire grip and makes braking distances longer.

Apart from testing rain conditions, the association also evaluated how the vehicles behaved with a dirty windshield, where the sensors for ADAS are usually installed. AAA’s tests showed that dust or bugs did not interfere negatively with the systems’ performance. It would be fascinating if they had also found a way to evaluate how fog affects these driver-assistance systems, but it did not happen this time.

As Greg Bannon said, ADAS are usually tested in perfect weather conditions. However, the AAA director of automotive engineering and industry relations stressed that this is not always the case, making evaluations in adverse situations a must to understand how these systems behave when exposed to them.

The message these tests leave is that no ADAS is a fit replacement for an engaged driver. They are at best helpful for distracted drivers, which does not mean that they will work 100% of the time. As much as some fantasize about having robotaxis to improve traffic safety, it is clear that we’re still a long way from that. In other words, people that like to be behind a steering wheel may feel vindicated: human beings still drive better than any machine when they want to.

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