IIHS Study Shows That People Treat Partially-Automated Vehicles as Fully Self-Driving

No current automated driving system on the market can drive a car without the driver’s supervision. Yet, many drivers leave their partially-automated vehicles in charge of driving most of the time. A recent IIHS study shows that Tesla drivers are not even the worst in this regard.
IIHS study shows that people treat partially-automated vehicles as fully self-driving 8 photos
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With all those safety assistance and automated driving systems on board, modern vehicles are blurring the lines between driving and self-driving. Many drivers overestimate what technology can do and engage in non-driving activities behind the wheel. The common belief is that Tesla drivers are the worst, especially after videos of people sleeping in their speeding Teslas became viral. But an IIHS study shows that the same happens to other car brands that feature automated driving features.

According to the IIHS, drivers who use partial automation regularly often treat their vehicles as fully self-driving. This is despite widespread warnings and high-profile crash reports. More than 52% of Cadillac Super Cruise drivers, 42% of Tesla Autopilot users, and 12% of Nissan ProPilot Assist users surveyed said they were comfortable treating their vehicles as fully self-driving.

“The big-picture message here is that the early adopters of these systems still have a poor understanding of the technology’s limits,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “But we also see clear differences among the three owner populations. It’s possible that system design and marketing are adding to these misconceptions.”

You’d think Tesla is the biggest offender here because previous reports and studies targeted the Autopilot system specifically. But the IIHS study, which analyzed around 600 Cadillac, Nissan/Infiniti, and Tesla owners (about 200 each), showed that drivers equally abuse other systems. There are different ways in which every system tries to prevent that, but one thing remains true across the board: a high level of assistance makes it hard for drivers to remain engaged and tempts them to turn their attention to other things.

All three systems in the survey use sensors in the steering wheel to determine when the driver’s hands are on it. Nevertheless, Cadillac’s Super Cruise allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel for extended periods, whereas the other two systems require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel essentially all the time. There’s also a driver camera monitoring system for Cadillac and Tesla users (as of 2021).

When driver distraction is detected, each system reacts differently. Only Autopilot and Super Cruise include a lockout feature that disables the system and prevents drivers from immediately restarting it as a final step in their escalation sequences. ProPilot Assist allows the driver to make manual steering adjustments without automatically suspending the lane-centering feature. On the other hand, Autopilot’s lane-centering feature deactivates, and Super Cruise temporarily suspends operation until the driver has stopped steering.

The capabilities of the system also influence drivers’ behavior. Super Cruise and Autopilot users are more inclined to do things that involve taking their hands off the wheel or their eyes off the road. Super Cruise users are also the most likely to say that an activity they think is unsafe to do when the system is switched off is safe to do when the system is switched on.

press release

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