Auto Service World
News   May 8, 2024   by Adam Malik

Automation safeguards leave much to be desired

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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has introduced a new ratings program aimed at driving automakers to integrate more stringent safeguards into their partial driving automation systems.

It has not gotten off to a great start for automakers. The first evaluation of 14 systems yielded predominantly disappointing results: Only one system received an “acceptable” rating, two were deemed “marginal,” and the majority, 11 systems, were classified as “poor.”

The group measured 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,” observed David Harkey, IIHS president.

The Lexus LS’s Teammate system stood out as the sole system meriting an acceptable rating, a stark contrast to the poor ratings attributed to popular models such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model 3.

Despite shared nomenclature, the ratings are tied specifically to models tested, signifying that similar systems across different vehicles might yield different results.

“Some drivers may feel that partial automation makes long drives easier, but there is little evidence it makes driving safer,” Harkey said. “As many high-profile crashes have illustrated, it can introduce new risks when systems lack the appropriate safeguards.”

The overarching message: Vehicles with partial automation require active human oversight, countering any misleading implications by automaker marketing.

IIHS’s new program, led by Senior Research Scientist Alexandra Mueller, scrutinized the degree to which these systems ensure driver focus and readiness.

“The shortcomings vary from system to system,” she said. “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.”

For instance, while Lexus Teammate and GM Super Cruise exhibited comprehensive safety protocols, others like the BMW and Mercedes-Benz systems revealed significant lapses in ensuring driver engagement and executing emergency responses.

Furthermore, the IIHS emphasizes the importance of driver involvement in the automation process to avoid mental disengagement, suggesting that automation should not replace but rather augment human decision-making.

Regarding safety features, the institute insists that partial automation should only function when essential safety mechanisms, such as automatic emergency braking and lane departure prevention, are active. Unfortunately, most systems evaluated did not meet this criterion, presenting a considerable safety concern.

The emerging consensus from the IIHS evaluations suggests a pressing need for industry-wide improvements in partial automation technologies. The report indicates that while no single system excelled in every category, strengths were observed across different systems, suggesting that implementable fixes are within reach, potentially via software updates.

While Harkey expressed concern, he remained optimistic.

“These results are worrying, considering how quickly vehicles with these partial automation systems are hitting our roadways,” he said. “But there’s a silver lining if you look at the performance of the group as a whole. No single system did well across the board, but in each category at least one system performed well. That means the fixes are readily available and, in some cases, may be accomplished with nothing more than a simple software update.”

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