Researchers with the safety group AAA have been testing active driver assistance systems that partially automate vehicles. The idea behind these systems is to reduce the number and severity of crashes by reducing the effect of human error. Unfortunately, AAA found that they are so unreliable that auto makers should consider limiting their use.
This is the second time AAA tested many of these same systems. In 2018, it also concluded that the systems were not ready for prime time.
This year, the safety group tested five vehicles at research centers with instruments and drivers monitoring the vehicles’ performance:
- 2019 BMW X7 SUV with Active Driving Assistant Professional
- 2019 Cadillac CT6 sedan with Super Cruise
- 2019 Ford Edge SUV with Co-Pilot 360
- 2020 Kia Telluride SUV with Highway Driving Assist
- 2020 Subaru Outback SUV with EyeSight
In 2018, the tests included a 2017 Tesla Model S with Autopilot, but that vehicle was not included in this year’s test.
The researchers tested the systems in real-world conditions and, where the system allowed, on a track. They measured the vehicles’ performance over 4,000 miles.
They encountered problems, on average, every eight miles.
For example, the driver assist systems, which are not yet meant to fully replace an attentive driver, had difficulty recognizing broken-down vehicles in their path. About two-thirds of the time, the test vehicles struck the disabled car at an average speed of 25 mph. According to AAA, most of the cars’ manuals explain that the driver assist system may not always spot stationary objects.
Most of the time, the Kia Telluride, BMW X7 and the Subaru Outback all had trouble spotting the broken-down vehicle in their lane.
Moreover, the systems often stopped working without clear notice to the drivers. If the driver is not fully attentive and ready to take over, this could result in a very dangerous condition.
In real-world conditions, each of the systems had trouble keeping the car in its lane, coming too close to guardrails and other vehicles.
Drivers may not know what attention their vehicles need
When asked for comment, several manufacturers defended themselves by claiming that the systems are merely meant to aid an attentive driver, not be fully autonomous. BMW, for example, stated that its car performed as designed in AAA’s tests.
Yet it is unclear that drivers understand that they need to be fully attentive and ready to take over for these systems.
“People are really less familiar and less likely to really engage in understanding how the systems work,” said a spokesperson for AAA. “That just assume they do work. That could be a really dangerous assumption.”
All in all, the researchers found that the systems haven’t improved much since the 2018 trials, and that could also be problematic. AAA recommends that automakers stop rolling these systems out to new vehicles until they are more reliable.