By on August 6, 2020

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is recommending automakers limit the use of advanced driving aids after concluding they’re not really up to the challenge of providing reliable safety.

Over the past two years, AAA has focused on testing crash prevention systems to see if they’re all manufacturers claim — deciding that while many are useful in some instances, they’re far too inconsistent to be considered reliable safety nets. Like us, the group worries that making these features commonplace has created a false sense of security among drivers. While one might assume advanced driving aids have to be halfway decent to be put into vehicles, AAA’s pedestrian detection test from 2019 showed they’re anything but consistent.

On Thursday, America’s favorite motor club returned to report on its latest findings on five systems currently offered by the industry. For the test, AAA selected a 2019 BMW X7 with Active Driving Assistant Professional, 2019 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise, 2019 Ford Edge with Co-Pilot360, 2020 Kia Telluride with Highway Driving Assist, and a 2020 Subaru Outback with EyeSight. The group was sent to numerous testing sites in California, Utah, and Nevada, and given a 4,000-mile shakedown on public roads — where the outfit found the systems averaged a misstep or disengagement roughly every 8 miles.

Lane keeping seemed to be the system giving testers the most trouble, as it occasionally became befuddled by faded markings, automatically steering vehicles off road in some instances. AAA said these incidents would have been exceedingly dangerous if the driver wasn’t paying attention or had placed too much faith in the onboard features. This was made worse by cars tracking true and steering themselves through several shallow corners with aplomb, only to totally come apart and disengage in a nearly identical curve later.

Problems were not isolated to turns, however. Vehicles sometimes drifted out of their lane on a straight trajectory as well, only to over-correct and find themselves in the wrong lane.

Obstacle detection was another serious issue. Testing in a closed environment, AAA found that test cars typically hit stationary obstacles (video here) representing a disabled vehicle upon approach, rather than avoiding them. When encountering this test scenario, in aggregate, collisions occurred 66 percent of the time with an average impact speed of 25 mph.

“Active driving assistance systems are designed to assist the driver and help make the roads safer, but the fact is, these systems are in the early stages of their development,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations. “With the number of issues we experienced in testing, it is unclear how these systems enhance the driving experience in their current form. In the long run, a bad experience with current technology may set back public acceptance of more fully automated vehicles in the future.”

It also might turn you into a grease spot on the pavement if you’re not ready to handle their occasional hiccups. However, automakers have grown more vocal about how these assistance packages aren’t meant to replace an attentive driver (even though many literally steer, brake, and accelerate the vehicle for you). This has prompted loads of debate among consumer advocacy groups, which claim the language being used to sell these systems is misleading and that the systems ultimately dull a driver’s senses by lulling them into feeling overly confident in a car’s limited capabilities.

Even the way the cars were tested showcased some of the issues confronted by consumers. A few systems couldn’t be tested in a closed environment. For example, Cadillac’s Super Cruise requires a divided highway to work at all. But they all have their own personalities, with different levels of engagement and thresholds for disengagement. Ultimately, AAA said it didn’t see much (if any) improvement from the last batch of vehicles tested. The group also noted that legal experts and regulatory groups have started to caution that it may be decades before fully autonomous cars are ready for widespread deployment, and that the systems that foreshadow their arrival could be doing more harm than good.

“AAA has repeatedly found that active driving assistance systems do not perform consistently, especially in real-word scenarios,” Brannon said. “Manufacturers need to work toward more dependable technology, including improving lane keeping assistance and providing more adequate alerts.”

Researchers have released the study in full if you’d like to see the metrics used and how the vehicles stacked up against each other. AAA wants the takeaway to be that these systems are still lacking across the board. It’s recommending the auto industry cool its jets until serious improvements can be made, and to stop trying to put these advanced driving aids into every vehicle they manufacture until they’re substantially improved.

[Images: AAA]

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39 Comments on “Are Modern Driving Assistance Features Unreliable? AAA Researchers Say Yes...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I would never trust a car’s nannies to protect me in everyday driving situations. Your eyes and ears should always be the final say so in every driving situation. Even back-up cameras, as good as they are, always get a final look over the shoulder just to make sure

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      In fact, your manual says this. “don’t count on all the nannies we put in your car. You are responsible for your driving.” This is what it says

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        As it should be, but if people become too dependent on these driver’s assistance features they’re going to find themselves in a heap of trouble

      • 0 avatar
        Steve Biro

        You are correct. The manuals do say that. But a few lines from the legal department are not going to stop lazy and/or stupid motorists from trusting the systems too much – nor the automakers from marketing the systems as much more than they are.

        Those few lines from Legal also won’t protect the company from the inevitable lawsuits.

        Frankly, not only are these systems inconsistent and unreliable, they are annoying and intrusive. I resent having to pay for them – and resent even more my not being able to deactivate them all permanently.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenn

          “I resent having to pay for them – and resent even more my not being able to deactivate them all permanently.” – THAT! I couldn’t agree more. It keeps me in a 19-year-old 4Runner that I’d like to replace with something new, but…

  • avatar
    Verbal

    You’re driving down a two lane road. A drunk coming the opposite direction crosses over the centerline. You steer towards the ditch to avoid a collision. The lane keep assist pulls you back. Boom.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Good point. But ideally, the anti-collision code will override the lane-keeping code, and will steer you to a safer scenario.

      I’m not a fan.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      You see sinkhole opening, you see a falling tree. A tank driving over the highway
      .youtube.com/watch?v=dOH2SkGoooQ

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I haven’t encountered any “lane assist” that was more than a gentle vibration or tug on the wheel…the driver’s input overpowers it, especially in a situation like this.

      I think the auto braking is the one that could get you in trouble…you can’t do much to override the car slamming on the brakes for you. Not sure if it is following to closely if your car stops for no reason and you get rear ended.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        Read the manual. Car must stop braking for you if you start giving brake input.

        “gentle vibration” – I was really fighting with Santa Fe’s steering assist. My H-Lander – yea. I can easily steer against the nanny

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          So if the car emergency brakes when I don’t want it to, why would I hit the brake. You can read the manual all day…it is still stopping when I don’t want it to and I’m sure it overides my throttle input

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            I could be wrong but I believe that if you press the brake when car brakes for you, it releases the brake and you can release at that point and it will not reapply it.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            Art,

            I am right, as usual

            ●The pre-collision braking function may not operate if certain operations are performed by the driver. If the accelerator pedal is being depressed strongly or the steering wheel is being turned, the system may determine that the driver is taking evasive action and possibly prevent the pre-collision braking function from operating.

            ●In some situations, while the pre-collision braking function is operating,operation of the function may be canceled if the accelerator pedal is depressed strongly or the steering wheel is turned and the system deter-mines that the driver is taking evasive action.
            ●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●
            ●If the brake pedal is being depressed, the system may determine that the driver is taking evasive action and possibly delay the operation timing of the pre-collision braking function.
            ●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●

          • 0 avatar
            psychoboy

            So busy trying to win the argument, you miss the point…

            Yes, hitting the pedal will override the automatic braking. But if the auto-brakes engage for no reason, why would the driver hit the pedal to disengage them?

            You are cruising down the turnpike, singing along to your favorite Billy Ocean CD, kinda zoned out, when your smartcar crests a hill and thinks it sees something in the road in front of you. The car hammers the brakes in an emergency stop; you have no idea what’s happening. Just as you remember that you have to hit the brakes to get the car to stop hitting the brakes, the dumb 18 wheeler you passed a couple miles back plows thru your rapidly decelerating cargo area.

            As you are doing your best Super Dave Osborne impersonation, you thank the AI-gods for their ever-present overwatch and your continued safety.

    • 0 avatar

      My Mazda 3 routinely does this if I try to pass a bicyclist. The first time it happened when the car was brand new it scared the crap out of me and I had to fight the car to keep it from steering into the cyclist I was trying to avoid. All the car knew was that I was leaving the lane repeatedly and its sole mission was to get the vehicle back on course. From then on I’ve always signaled to disengage the LKAS before I go around them. It looks ridiculous but it sure beats tech-assisted vehicular homicide.

  • avatar
    Fred

    As I get older and feeble I will rely more on these devices, but first I’ll need to get a car with them. I just don’t want be the guy who crashes into a store, or swerves into on coming traffic and the such. Maybe they will have these things fixed in a few years when it’s time for me to get a new car. Otherwise I’ll rely on Uber or something.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    You did not have to go that long to know this. I’ve seen this coming.

    Anyone who had 3 grams of brain and read an owner manual of the car loaded with these features, could easily make a conclusion that these features will eventually play a bad joke on you

  • avatar
    JimC2

    There is a school of thought that robotic airplanes will replace piloted airplanes in big cargo and passenger service and that the day is coming soon.

    I think that human ingenuity and profit motive tell us that that day will arrive, sooner or later, and that Moore’s Law and the pace of technology tell us that it will suddenly sneak up on us when it does come… but stories like this are a good reminder that self-driving cars and self-flying airplanes—suitable for all sorts of environmental conditions, weather, and other variables—are still farther away than the fanbois would like to admit.

    Oh, and Darwin’s theories are alive and well, as we can see every time some poor fool offs themselves by relying too much on these nannies.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    The real issue is that people’s driving habits change as the technology does the work for them. For example, with lane departure on our Grand Cherokee I find myself looking back over my shoulder far less than I used to before changing lanes. It infuriates me that I’ve “trained” myself this way, but I have.

    I’ve had a few Volvo S90 rentals with lane keep and active cruise and on long trips, that system too has got me more comfortable *not* paying attention – that is, until I hit a patch of twisties and realize those systems are NOT ready for anything other than straight, clear, and well defined.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      “It infuriates me that I’ve “trained” myself this way, but I have.”

      Yes. Me too.

      I really like the back-up camera and audible warnings about moving objects behind me. I recently caught myself backing out of angled parking at the supermarket without even looking at the screen–or turning my head–because I have become too trusting of the audible warnings. BAD!!

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    “…a misstep or disengagement roughly every 8 miles.” I had an aunt who drove like that. My uncle took her license away.

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    I recently purchased a 2020 Civic with lots of electronic nannies on it. I was driving through town yesterday when my forward collision warning started flashing and dinging.

    On the opposite side of the road, a car had pulled slowly out of a business and had moved slightly into the crosswalk. My car thought it was a pedestrian and had an absolute fit.

    I can see the value of these systems, but for those of use who actually pay attention, they’re mostly an annoyance.

    I will say the radar cruise control is pretty nice on long highway drives, though.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I hate radar cruise. And always use regular mode. Why? Because RCC prolongs your trip. It slows down and drags behind drivers even if you are in process of changing lanes. With a regular one, you just steer around cars. I could take only 5 minutes of RCC. May be in slow and packed traffic it is useful. But if you on the mission of the trip, not so much.

      • 0 avatar
        Sobro

        I rented a Jetta with radar cruise and as far as I could figure out all I could adjust was the distance from the lead vehicle that the car would start slowing down to match speed with. That’s no way to drive from Vegas to Southern California.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          So what you’re telling us is that the AI algorithm is effectively based on a scale of 1-10 for “mouth breathing shuttle driver,” but the only user-adjustable choices are about a 9 or 10.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    “a misstep or disengagement roughly every 8 miles”

    Perhaps the designers have made these systems too lifelike!

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I have a co-worker who has admitted that she never turns her head when backing and relies entirely on her camera. Also does the bullbutter 120° backing park versus the correct 90°, still can’t approach centering her car. Drives me bonkers.

    As for my car, I have the first tier of driving assistance features (radar adaptive cruise, lane departure warning, cross traffic alert, automatic braking). Like anything else it’s a mixed bag. Occasionally it catches something that I didn’t quite notice, but on other occasions it intervenes when it’s not necessary.

    I generally like radar cruise, once I figured out what it really was; a fuel saving measure (it evens out the hard acceleration/braking events). It’s annoying when the car slows what down for a car that doddles over, but then I find myself more incensed at the dingleberry who wanders in front and then fails to get up to speed. Occasionally I notice myself slowing way down and move out of the way, but if I notice traffic around me is morse code braking, I’ll turn that on in a heart beat. Keep me away from those fools. However, it’s easily dazzled when driving into the sun; blasting am annoying klaxon saying system disengaged sensor can’t see or some such.

    The emergency braking has blasted off a couple times with the shouty red BRAKE warning. This has usually only happened when somebody ahead is turning, and taking their sweet time about it. Usually I will have determined that though they’re going Stoopid slow, they’ll still be done turning before I get there; the car disagrees.

    Finally, and I’m not sure if this counts toward active safety features, but the automatic high beams are another feature which I’m not sure about. I can never tell if they’ve dipped early enough the avoid blinding oncoming motorists and I usually control them manually anyway. Not sure why I care since I’m regularly blinded by Toyotas and Hyundais, but I digress. They also tend to flicker in suburban driving, never quite sure if it’s appropriate to go full beam, or dipped beam. I’ve found them most useful in my trips to visit my brother’s: infrequent street lights, rolling hills, ruralish roads, deer.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “it evens out the hard acceleration/braking events”

      Umm, so does paying attention to traffic.

      You hit the nail on the head when you mention people braking in morse code. There’s a popular saying that 80% of all drivers believe they’re above average; I’d hypothesize that 80% of all drivers are actually *below* average**- that ubiquitous morse code braking in heavy traffic is evidence of it, as is the slowwwww turning people and all the other aggravating behavior your describe. It’s as if driver’s education is… incestuous.

      ** average meaning the mean in this case, not the median (sort of the difference between Fréchet distribution and a common bell curve).

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        You’re not wrong. I have passengers who always laugh at how irritated I tend to get at the people who Morse code brake, can’t maintain a speed to save their lives, fail to signal. My response tends to be fairly static, “if you’re not aggravated, you’re not paying attention.” Obviously that last statement is somewhat tongue in cheek, but zombies tend to put somebody on their guard.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          :)

          Riding with some of my less-judgmental friends one day, I exclaimed (kinda out of the blue), “I hate when people hit their brakes at the bottom of a hill.” This on a road that was hill after hill, and the car in front of us was riding their brakes down the last few seconds of a hill right before the next hill started up, and it was kind of causing a slinky effect in the line of cars behind it.

          My friends had a laugh at my expense, and I deserved it.

          But seriously, did (deleted unkind word for a person of severely limited mental capacity) like that driver never ride a bike?

          I admit there are too many little things like that that bother me, and they’re things I have no control over so there’s no sense getting annoyed.

          I’m also skeptical when someone complains that the brakes on their car lasted “only” xxxx miles.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    My last new car had lane keeping assist and it drove me crazy. The current systems aren’t ready for prime time, if prime time includes the inconsistent and worn lane markings on U.S. roadways.

    (Unobtrusive aids like blind spot warning, I like in their current iterations.)

  • avatar
    Fastlight1955

    This seems like a good time to post my thoughts on the whole autonomous driving issue. The standard disclaimer with all of these so-called “safety systems” or “driver assistance systems” is that the human driver is ultimately responsible for the car, which means that he has to be able to take over control when the system runs out of talent. For him to be able to do that, he has to pay even closer attention to the situation than if he were doing all the driving – constantly analyzing and second-guessing the system for errors. For me (with 50 years of driving experience and no at-fault accidents), that’s WAY more mental effort than just taking complete control of the car. And as long as that is the case, I have no interest in having ANY of those systems on my car, and I SURE don’t want to have to pay for them and maintain them.

    In short, until and unless these systems are perfect, they are nothing more than a high tech, but still imperfect, “backseat driver”. Either I’m driving, in which case I don’t want or need the systems’ assistance – or the car is driving, in which case I expect it to be at least as good of a driver as I am (such that I can read the paper if I want to). And if anything does go wrong, I expect the manufacturer of the car to be financially responsible for my losses – even if my name is on the title – because after all, it was their software that was driving. And in today’s world, that ain’t likely to happen. So I’ll take a pass on ALL of these “driver assistance” technologies.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    No kidding! As a long time computer tech guy I have been cautioning tons of people to not trust these advanced safety features and completely rely on them. We have become a tech obsessed world the past 20 plus years but there is no better and reliable tech than our own eyes, ears and senses.

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