The automation systems built into modern vehicles are designed to keep drivers safe by helping them avoid getting into collisions. But is our reliance on vehicle safety technologies creating the opposite effect?
Newly released research from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) in the U.S. suggests automakers need to revisit the design of partially automated advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) to safeguard against driver complacency. ADAS include features such as lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, and rearview cameras. Their purpose is to help a motorist while they’re driving or parking a car.
What’s known as “Level 2 driving automation” offers the potential to reduce the frequency of car accidents. Motorists driving vehicles with this technology may get a discount on their auto insurance . Still, the IIHS research highlights drivers relying on the technology may become disengaged behind the wheel.
The IIHS report, “Addressing driver disengagement and system misuse: human factors recommendations for Level 2 driving automation design”, states drivers may be placing too much trust in partially automated driving systems. It warns the more sophisticated automation becomes, the more difficult it is for drivers to stay focused on driving because it may lead to a false sense of security, and reckless behaviours such as distracted driving.
“Driver assistance technology holds great potential to reduce the frequency and severity of vehicle collisions. There will be a significant reduction in road fatalities, injuries, and vehicle damage as cars with driver assistance systems replace older vehicles,” says Paul Kovacs, Executive Director, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction in Toronto. “Drivers, however, must understand and properly use the new systems if they are to maximize the benefits. Drivers must change their habits and respond to the warnings designed to improve their safety and protect others.”
What is Level 2 driving automation?
There are five levels of ADAS, ranging from Level 0 (a human controls all aspects of driving) to Level 5 (requires no human intervention; self-driving vehicles). Level 2 automation requires drivers to remain focused and in charge of the vehicle. It includes one or more driver-assistance technologies such as acceleration and deceleration and steering or lane-departure mitigation.
Automated vehicles do hold the promise of making driving safer. The Insurance Institute of Canada notes over the past 30 years, 94,000 Canadians were killed in traffic collisions, and 6.7 million were injured. Driver error was the primary cause of most crashes and automation could, in theory, help lessen the likelihood of accidents from occurring.
There’s also considerable money to be saved with automated vehicles as the Conference Board of Canada estimates vehicles with ADAS could produce economic benefits around $37.4 billion annually in fewer collisions. However, data from the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety finds drivers using ADAS are twice as likely to engage in distracted driving behaviour like texting.
How to improve ADAS technology
The IIHS provides a series of design recommendations to minimize driver disengagement, including:
- Using both direct and indirect driver monitoring methods to detect when a motorist may not be paying attention to the road such as a driver’s eye and head orientation, as well as the amount of time it takes to react to the vehicle’s attention reminders
- Escalating attention alerts (both visual and non-visual) and ensure they are unique for each type of warning
- Preventing drivers from being able to deactivate or modify the in-vehicle alerts
- Prohibiting partially automated systems from automating lane changes
- If a driver doesn’t respond to visual and audio alerts, the system should pulse the brakes to provide a warning that is difficult to ignore
Training drivers how to use ADAS remains a concern
Whether a vehicle has ADAS onboard or not, driver disengagement and distracted driving are severe threats to road safety. ADAS may exacerbate those problems, the IIHS says.
While automakers need to improve in-vehicle driver monitoring systems to ensure motorists remain engaged while on the road, training drivers on how to use and adapt to driver-assisted technologies is also needed. But therein lies another dilemma: how should driver training on ADAS be delivered consistently and accurately? Only time will tell how auto manufacturers and other road safety stakeholders intend to address the issue.