How Well Do Drivers Understand New Driver-Assistance Systems?

How Well Do Drivers Understand New Driver-Assistance Systems?

Human behavior has a way of thwarting safety technology, especially when it comes to the driver-assistance systems now becoming common in new cars, a AAA study finds.

“You can’t fake it ‘til you make it at highway speeds. New car owners must receive training that is safe, effective, and enjoyable before they hit the road,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research, in a news release.

The AAA study found that owners of new vehicles equipped with driving assistance technology may understand it better after six months of use, but the depth of their knowledge is limited. A “learn as you go” approach still leaves gaps in understanding when compared to another group of drivers who had a very strong grasp of the technology, partially due to a brief intensive hands-on training session.

Also, researchers noted the disturbing emergence of a small, overconfident group of drivers who falsely believed their time behind the wheel gave them expertise with the system.

“Our research finds that drivers who attempt the ‘self-taught’ approach to an advanced driver-assistance system might not fully master its entire capabilities,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “In contrast, drivers who have adequate training are able to effectively use the vehicle technology.”

AAA recommends that researchers, automakers, and government agencies work together to better understand driver performance, behavior, and interactions in vehicles with advanced technologies.

Adaptive cruise control not fool-proof

Among the technologies studied were adaptive cruise control, which assists with acceleration and braking to maintain a gap with the car in front.

The study identified a “potentially dangerous sub-group of over-confident drivers who failed to grasp ACC yet were highly self-assured in their knowledge,” AAA said.

Some of the gaps in understanding include:

  • Falsely believing that the system will react to stationary objects in their lane, such as construction cones or other obstacles.
  • Falsely believing that the system will provide steering input to keep the vehicle in its lane.
  • Falsely believing the system can operate in all weather conditions.

The researchers recommend that drivers take time to learn the capabilities of safety technology in their new car by reading the owner’s manual and visiting the manufacturer’s website.

“Do not make any assumptions about what the technology can and cannot do. A driving assistance system should not be confused with a self-driving one,” AAA said.

For the research, 39 experienced drivers between 25 and 65 were recruited. Each participant had purchased a vehicle equipped with automatic cruisse control within the previous six weeks and it was not present on any vehicle they previously owned. Each driver was assessed at the start of the study and several times during the first six months.

The full report is available online.