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This New Car Feature Can Be Downright Dangerous

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When you are driving long distances, partial driving automation systems promise to make the process easier. But the technology is not always safe, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In fact, while there is no evidence that these systems make driving safer, it is possible they might make driving more dangerous because they can cause a driver’s attention to wander, the IIHS says.

Recently, the IIHS announced that it is introducing a new ratings program that is intended to push car manufacturers toward putting more effective safeguards into partial driving automation systems.

Partial driving automation technology uses cameras, radar or other sensors to monitor the road and nearby traffic. Features that make up the technology might include:

  • Adaptive cruise control: Holds the speed a driver selects but slows down and speeds up to keep the vehicle safe in changing traffic conditions.
  • Lane centering: Keeps the vehicle centered in the lane.
  • Automated lane changing: Looks for cars in a vehicle’s blind spot before executing a lane change if the pathway is clear.

These systems are not self-driving. They instead count on human drivers to closely monitor how the automation is performing so the driver can take over if necessary.

In the initial testing of 14 partial driving automation systems, just one earned an “acceptable” rating — the Teammate with Advanced Drive system that is available on the Lexus LS.

In a summary of the findings, David Harkey, IIHS president, says:

“We evaluated partial automation systems from BMW, Ford, General Motors, Genesis, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Tesla and Volvo. Most of them don’t include adequate measures to prevent misuse and keep drivers from losing focus on what’s happening on the road.”

Of the remaining systems tested, two — the Super Cruise on the GMC Sierra and the ProPILOT Assist with Navi-link on the Nissan Ariya — were rated as “marginal.”

The remaining 11 finished with “poor” marks. They are:

  • Active Driving Assistant Pro on the BMW X1
  • BlueCruise on the Ford Mustang Mach-E
  • Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go and Lane Centering Assist on the Ford Mustang Mach-E
  • Highway Driving Assist 2 on the Genesis G90
  • Smart Cruise Control/Lane Following Assist on the Genesis G90
  • Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC with Active Steering Assist on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan
  • Autopilot, Version 2023.7.10 on the Tesla Model 3
  • Full Self-Driving (Beta), Version 2023.7.10 on the Tesla Model 3
  • Pilot Assist on the Volvo S90
  • Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Lane Tracing Assist on the Lexus LS
  • ProPILOT Assist 2.0 on the Nissan Ariya

The IIHS notes that the ratings for these systems apply only to the specific models that were tested, even though the systems might be found on other models.

To make partial driving automation systems safer, the IIHS would like to see more robust safeguards put into place to keep drivers focused and ready.

In the summary of the findings, IIHS senior research scientist Alexandra Mueller says:

“Many vehicles don’t adequately monitor whether the driver is looking at the road or prepared to take control. Many lack attention reminders that come soon enough and are forceful enough to rouse a driver whose mind is wandering. Many can be used despite occupants being unbelted or when other vital safety features are switched off.”

The IIHS notes that some manufacturers have already used software updates to improve their systems. The organization says it expects rapid improvement in the technology.

However, Harkey says the IIHS test results are still “worrying, considering how quickly vehicles with these partial automation systems are hitting our roadways.”

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