If your vehicle comes with a partial driver assist system, you can’t let it affect your level of attention. Even the most sophisticated of these systems is not fully self-driving. Every manufacturer stresses that drivers must be fully in control of the vehicle at all times and ready to take over driving at a moment’s notice.
When drivers mistakenly assume that they can take their attention off the road, it can lead to tragedy. A number of high-profile crashes have been reported. In every case, crash investigators found that the driver had become disengaged and allowed the vehicle to pilot itself.
The truth is that semi-autonomous vehicle technology is not ready to allow drivers to sit back, close their eyes and enjoy a relaxing nap. These systems cannot take over fully. They often make mistakes, such as missing pedestrians and even other vehicles. They can fail to respond even when their sensors are aware of an upcoming obstacle. They don’t always work.
Unfortunately, driver-assist technologies may lead drivers to relax their guard. A recent study confirmed that drivers were less attentive even when using the relatively unsophisticated adaptive cruise control (ACC). That system only keeps your vehicle at a constant speed while maintaining a specific following distance.
The study was performed by researchers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and MIT’s AgeLab.
Volunteer drivers agreed to be monitored as they drove either a Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, which has ACC alone, or a Volvo S90, which has ACC and lane-centering technology. The combination of ACC and lane-centering makes up the S90’s Pilot Assist system.
When the drivers initially received their vehicles, their driving habits didn’t change right away. However, after about a month, they were substantially more likely to take their hands off the wheel or to answer a cellphone call. This effect was more pronounced among the S90 drivers, who had access to Pilot Assist.
Are you safer with or without these systems?
Interestingly, there is field research showing that ACC confers some additional safety when compared even to vehicles with automatic emergency braking and forward collision warnings. This is because ACC does a relatively good job of maintaining speed and proper following distance.
By contrast, there are currently no data to suggest that the addition of lane-centering technology to ACC confers any additional benefit.
These systems do appear to have a positive impact overall. However, driver disengagement can be catastrophic when driving a partially automated vehicle. You simply cannot allow yourself to become reliant on the technology to the point where you let down your guard.