By on October 18, 2018

Image: Shantanu Joshi/Youtube

American safety advocates have long cautioned motorists and manufacturers that poor communication leads to unrealistic expectations of driver assist systems, thus putting lives in danger. The Europeans are waking up to this reality, too.

Despite an ever-growing list of standard tech in new cars, customer bewilderment hasn’t waned, a new study shows. You’d be alarmed (but perhaps not surprised) by the number of people who think self-driving cars are already on the market.

In a study detailed by Autocar, Britain’s Thatcham Research revealed that 53 percent of British drivers believe fully autonomous vehicles are already on the market. Broaden the scope to encompass the globe, and that figure rises to 71 percent. Sketchy marketing can be blamed for much of the confusion, the company claims.

The research company recently partnered with Euro NCAP to assess common driver assist features in 10 vehicles, part of the groundwork for the European safety program’s 2020 testing standards. As the function and capabilities of driver assist systems differ greatly from model to model, drivers can’t expect the same kind of performance from each system.

Some car makers are designing and marketing vehicles in such a way that drivers believe they can relinquish control,” Matthew Avery, Thatcham’s director of research, told Autocar. “Car makers want to gain a competitive edge by referring to ‘self-driving’ or ‘semi-autonomous’ capability in their marketing, but it is fuelling consumer confusion. This is exacerbated by some systems doing too much for the driver, who ends up disengaged.”

Some manufacturers have already received the message. Following the study’s release, Nissan claimed it would stop using certain words (“autonomous,” “automated”) to refer to its combination of lane-holding and adaptive cruise control features. Instead, the automaker will use “assist systems.” Volvo agreed to stop using the term “semi-autonomous.”

Stateside, a recent ranking of the industry’s top highway driver assist systems by Consumer Reports led the publication to warn Volvo about its use of the word “autonomous.” The automaker soon removed it from its website and press materials.

“If used correctly, Highway Assist systems will improve road safety and reduce fatalities, but they won’t if naming and marketing convinces drivers that the car can take care of itself,” Avery said.

Given that the technology is in its infancy, there’s still bugs to be worked out. Some assist systems can’t handle sharp curves; others are flummoxed by rainy weather. It’s key to make drivers aware that these systems are fallible and can’t be relied on 100 percent, Avery said. While OEMs are moving in the right direction on their messaging, there’s still work to be done. As well, public knowledge moves at a slower pace, and myths are hard to kill.

“If they’re used properly none of them are a big concern. If you don’t over-rely on any of them there isn’t a serious concern,” Avery said of the new systems. “But people can look at the way it’s marketed, the way it’s sold, and can look at what it appears to communicate to the driver. All of that can convince the driver the system is more capable than it actually is. We think the BMW and the Nissan don’t support the driver enough, and can lead the driver into questioning is it working? And what’s the point?”

Of the vehicles tested, Avery singles out Tesla’s Autopilot as an example of a system that doesn’t let the driver make the right decisions.

“The Tesla appears to do a lot more than it should do — it’s very competent, it’s a very good system. However, it probably does too much for the driver — it doesn’t want the driver to interact with it. During the pothole test [in which a driver attempts to steer around a pothole with Autopilot engaged], the Tesla resists you, so you end up fighting the steering until it eventually lets go — it leads the driver into thinking it’s more capable than it actually is.”

[Image: Shantanu Joshi/Youtube]

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19 Comments on “The Message Isn’t Getting Across – Drivers Still Think Too Highly of Gee-whiz Driver Assist Features...”


  • avatar

    The biggest problem is these assist features work rather well most of the time, lulling drivers into not paying enough attention to the road. Then when a problem or emergency suddenly develops, it takes too long for drivers to return attention to the road and take action. These part-way autonomous features should in no way cause drivers to reduce attention to the complex tasks of driving safely – but they are dangerously doing that for some drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      Malforus

      Well Super Cruise actively verifies that the driver is paying attention (they have eye tracking) but for Tesla you are 100% right.

      Their promotional material and system design makes people lazy (Uber’s system had the same problem hence the unnecessary fatality).

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Years ago (1970s?), Mercury had a print ad claiming to be a car for people who believe the car should do most of the driving.

    As far as having to fight Tesla’s autopilot so that I can steer the car where I want, it’s not just, “No!” It’s, “Where are my wire cutters?” Musk’s engineers DON’T know better than I do. They aren’t there. Even if they were, I’m not sure they would make the right decision.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Now it’s getting real.

    I thought the societal calculus told us that as long as the total number of deaths and accidents goes down, these systems are good for us. The problem is, drivers (at least American ones) aren’t interested in ‘communal benefit’.

    The day is coming when an autonomous vehicle will make the choice between saving its occupants or taking out the pedestrians.

    I think full autonomy (Level 4 or 5) – which puts mfrs on the legal hook – may never actually arrive.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “You’d be alarmed (but perhaps not surprised) by the number of people who think self-driving cars are already on the market. ”

    I’d blame the press, more than automakers.

    How many headlines about e.g. the Tesla features and such made it look like they entirely drove themselves?

    • 0 avatar
      Malforus

      Umm why not blame automakers who say “Autonomous”

      Why is it the press’s fault that TESLA literally named their system a lie? Their in house marketing still refers to it as autonomous and they had to be told by a Judge to stop calling it Autopilot/self-driving.

  • avatar
    volvo

    What is “driver assist”? Are we talking about autonomous driving or other features?

    The view from the cockpit is so limited on most if not all new cars I would not purchase one without blind spot warning and 360 degree camera or US warning when in parking lots or garages. Other features such as lane departure, adaptive CC I can take or leave.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Semi or full Autonomy? Not sure about that in the near future, but as I get used to some of the features of my GLK Merc, I do appreciate the tech behind the scenes. At the moment I am smitten with the Auto Highbeam feature of the Xenons. Coupled with the fact they eerily follow the curves and then pop on the cornering lamps with the signals or when turning the wheel more than a certain amount, I have never driven more relaxed at night on roads with blind curves and gradient changes. This kind of tech I like! And it has a actual twist to start Keyfob and is brown and its a diesel, but those headlamps are way cool!

  • avatar
    vvk

    > During the pothole test [in which a driver attempts to steer around a pothole
    > with Autopilot engaged], the Tesla resists you, so you end up fighting the
    > steering until it eventually lets go

    ?!! What a load of ****. I doubt they actually drove one at all. That or they have EXTREMELY weak arms. I can steer my Model S to disengage autopilot with my pinkie.

    • 0 avatar
      Malforus

      I trust an organization way more than random commenter who didn’t answer the question.

      Does steering away from driver assist come with extra resistance or not?

  • avatar
    needsdecaf

    Every time I see a car commercial saving a dopey looking mom or dad, who is CLEARLY not paying attention, from backing out into traffic / rear ending someone who is stopped / swerving out of the lane / turning across traffic while paying attention to the phone / looking for something they dropped / yelling at junior / changing the radio, I want to scream.

    These ads are portraying the car saving the driver from idiotic behavior and encouraging people to not pay attention. “Don’t worry!” they say, “you can totally put on your makeup while driving and we’ll TOTALLY stop you from rear ending that line of traffic in front of you that you’re not looking at!”. And “yeah, it’s TOTES ok to be gabbing with your teeny-bopper front seat mate instead of trying to steer the car in it’s lane, don’t worry, we’ll steer it back for you with just a gentle admonishing beep”. Or “yeah, just back out of the driveway into the street, we’ll totally stop you from running over the kid on the tricycle and backing into the path of the truck coming down the street. You’re ok!”. Meanwhile, dopey mom and dad look at each other like “yeah, thank goodness the car can take over for us so we don’t have to pay attention. Aren’t we smart!”.

    UGH, I just want to scream.

    • 0 avatar
      OneAlpha

      I don’t see why I should have to pay more for a new car because the government forced the car companies to make backup cameras mandatory, just because that moron couldn’t be bothered to check behind his car before backing out and ran over his kid.

  • avatar
    Jon

    I think that the bigger question is why are you driving 56mph in the passing lane when the lane to your right is wide open?

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    Just as people say that we’re creating superbugs with our powerful antibiotics, it seems were creating super-idiots with our powerful nanny technology.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    “Some car makers are designing and marketing vehicles in such a way that drivers believe they can relinquish control”

    code word for “play candy crush and check facebook”

    I’m all for driver assist. If the car can be a smidge more aware than I faster than I, and start the panic braking 1/4 second sooner while I move my foot over, that’s great.

    But Americans are idiots. They see “driver assist” and their minds hear “driver replace” and go right to their facebook.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    So far every friend or work associate with these so called driver assistant systems is having major problems with them. My co-worker has had his 2018 Nissan Rogue in a half dozen times for the auto braking feature and the blind spot detection that goes off for no reason and intermittently gives off an error. My buddies 2015 Impala is also having major issues with the blind spot monitoring system and come to find out the sensors and connectors get corroded in Winter driving after a few years thanks to road salt. He also has a 2013 Town And Country mini van that he has to keep shutting this system off because it keeps going off. Another co-worker is having similar issues with a Ford Taurus Limited that is only 2 years old.

    These systems are still in their infancy and need a lot of work and shouldn’t be relied much on, especially the snow belt regions.


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