By on February 1, 2022

Despite the automotive industry collectively promising to commence deliveries of self-driving cars in 2019, autonomous vehicles have remained test platforms for technologies that don’t yet seem ready for mass consumption. Public perception of the concept has also endured a few setbacks after several fatalities involving partially autonomous vehicles received national media attention. Today, the relevant technologies have failed to mature as swiftly as indicated and there are a whole host of legal ramifications to contend with.

Selling an automobile that’s marketed as being able to drive itself (even partially) are exposing automakers to a whole new demographic of lawsuits, so they’re desperate to install failsafe measures that places the onus of responsibility back onto the driver. Their current favorite is driver-monitoring cameras, which the American Automobile Association (AAA) likewise believes are probably the best solution. The outlet recently shared the results of a study attempting to determine which driver-engagement systems worked best and decided that in-cabin cameras were the leading choice in a batch of bad options. 

Though AAA expressed some hesitancy in making the determination. While tepidly endorsing driver-facing cameras, suggesting they were better than systems relying on hand placement, the outlet expressed concerns that they all possessed sizable blind spots.

“The key to a safe active driving assistance system is effective driver monitoring that can’t be easily tricked,” said Greg Brannon, director of AAA’s automotive engineering and industry relations. “Vehicle technology has the potential to improve roadway safety, but the last thing we want are ineffective features in the hands of uninformed or overconfident drivers.”

“Regardless of brand names or marketing claims, vehicles available for purchase today are not capable of driving themselves,” he continued. “Driver monitoring systems are a good first step to preventing deadly crashes, but they are not foolproof.”

AAA’s testing was done in a natural environment on a 24-mile loop of a limited-access toll road in Southern California. Evaluated vehicles included a 2021 Cadillac Escalade (equipped with Super Cruise and a driver-facing infrared camera), 2021 Subaru Forester (equipped with EyeSight and Driver Focus using a driver-facing infrared camera), 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe (with Highway Driving Assist and no driver-monitoring camera), and a 2020 Tesla Model 3 (equipped with Autopilot from before the manufacturer began including in-cabin cameras).

Drivers and spotters were all AAA researchers and ran three different distracted driving scenarios. Number one entailed having the driver’s hands off the steering wheel, with the head up and the eyes gazing down. Number two involved hands being off the wheel with the head and eyes both angled down toward the center console. Meanwhile, number three used varied head and hand positioning in an effort to beat whatever system the vehicle had to determine when a driver had checked out.

Key findings included that the camera-based systems alerted disengaged drivers much sooner and were more persistent (annoying) than those detecting steering wheel movement and hand positioning. On average, the percent of time test drivers were engaged was approximately five times greater for camera-based systems than the steering-based systems.

From AAA:

AAA recommends that automakers opt for camera-based driver monitoring systems over steering wheel monitoring; however, more refinement is required to prevent driver distraction and misuse. Before releasing this report, AAA met with automakers to provide insight from the testing experience and specific recommendations for improvement.

Vehicles equipped with camera-based driver monitoring systems were significantly better at preventing each type of tested distraction scenario by issuing alerts faster and more persistently than a steering wheel system, no matter the external lighting conditions. On average, the percent of time test drivers were forced to focus on driving was five times greater when facing a camera than with steering wheel input.

Both driver monitoring types were prone to being intentionally fooled, although those using a camera were harder to trick. AAA test drivers attempted to stymie monitoring system alerts with periodic head or eye movement and manipulating the steering wheel. Each driver was given the discretion to develop their cheat strategy, and it should be noted that no external devices, tools, or aids were used.

I’ve been an advocate for AAA forever, even after my own membership lapsed, due to its general focus on consumer advocacy. It’s been fighting for the legal rights of motorists for longer than I’ve been alive. But I find it difficult to support any entity that’s encouraging the use of driver-facing cameras while consumer privacy is evaporating faster than a snow cone on the sun. It feels genuinely crazy that the solution to the failure of driver assistance features is putting a camera inside of every new vehicle so that the driver can be monitored in real time. If the systems worked as advertised, none of this should be necessary. This also opens the door to new privacy violations at a time when automakers are already transmitting your driving data back to base and dipping into your phone whenever possible.

It may likewise be worth pointing out the relevant spokespeople in this study aren’t the usual roster of lead researches, but people who bridge the gap between AAA and the industry. The study itself makes direct even mention that the group was working closely with automakers ahead of testing. Perhaps researchers simply wanted additional insights into how these systems worked. But I’m wondering about outside influence having played a factor, especially considering how critical the outlet has been on advanced driving aids in the past.

On the upshot, AAA has continued urging the industry to begin using a standardized nomenclature for modern vehicle technologies that are more representative of the true capabilities and limitations of advanced driving aids. As things currently stand, automakers are naming their systems whatever they please and often selecting titles that appear to hint at some level of self-driving capability. It also said that driver-facing cameras can still be fooled with some exaggerated neck stretching and would need to be refined before that would stop being an issue.

Driver attentiveness is important and there may be cause to implement devices that help keep motorists more focused on the road. But implementing those features after installing systems that have been shown to encourage lower response times in an emergency and confuse drivers as to the true limitations of their vehicle is absolute nonsense. If the industry is so worried about distracted driving, it should lean into campaigns designed to discourage phone use while behind the wheel and begin removing large, menu-driven touch screens from the center console of all future products.

Of course, then they wouldn’t be able to charge you for all this new tech or make the driver liable when it fails to prevent an accident.

 

[Image: General Motors]

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39 Comments on “AAA Endorses Driver-Monitoring Camera Systems...”


  • avatar
    Fred

    It’s all this guy’s fault https://youtu.be/saQ72NZtrS0

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      The guy was definitely stupid, but seeing how he scooted down in the seat, I could see he might’ve felt like he was about to be fired upon. Still, his shots were wild, irresponsible, and dangerous. He’s extremely lucky no one was injured.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Do these cameras record or have the ability to record?

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      I’ll bet your insurance company would love to see exactly what you were doing right before a crash.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Allegedly not. The relevant data is to not yet supposed to be capable of leaving the vehicle. However various safety agencies and manufacturer groups have suggested adding that feature to better analyze crash data to determine who is at fault.

      Future Euro NCAP standards have also seen similar proposals made, with members recommending some form of driver-monitoring (recorded or not) to become a legal obligation by 2027.

  • avatar
    jmo2

    If these systems can stop people from texting and driving they should be on all the times. When I used to commute basically every day someone would plow into someone at full speed. I recall one woman who rear ended a semi. I was like, how little were you paying attention that you slammed into a semi?

    Just the other day some guy was weaving in and out of his lane going 45 on the highway in his Wrangler. Pull over to pass him and he’s yaking into his phone.

    These people are a menace!

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      Contractors I work with who drive company trucks are low jacked and get a monthly driving report card. You accelerated too fast, to turned too sharply or braked to aggressively: 85% grade this month. When this level of monitoring becomes practical (it already is) your insurance company will offer you some marginal discount t to sign up for it and you’ll be watched all the time. And when you text and drive, you’ll hear about it and get a demerit on your report card. I’m keeping my low tech older car for a while longer.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        My dad used to talk about “tattle-tale clocks”. They were mechanical devices installed into commercial trucks and recorded mph and RPM. That was in the late 60’s so the whole idea of spying on drivers isn’t a new thing.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo2

        That won’t work. You’d have an adverse selection issue. The insurers would jack up the rates of those who opt out of being monitored.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “If the systems worked as advertised, none of this should be necessary.”

    Sorry to parse words, but they actually do work as advertised. Nobody claims to have a truly driverless Level 5 solution. The extant Level 2 systems don’t really have to work at all.

    The systems just don’t work as people *think* they should – which is a departure from reality.

    The cameras are really designed to protect the manufacturer from perceived liability for their driving aids, so it’s no surprise they are overly cautious and intrusive. Insurance companies will love them.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Just saw a GMC ad the other day for a heavy duty pickup with Super Cruise featuring drivers doing everything but driving.

      Is it just me, or is the thought of a 7,000 pound pickup with a front end almost “super cruising” while its’ driver plays Candy Crush rather frightening?

  • avatar
    jmo2

    “ If the systems worked as advertised, none of this should be necessary.”

    It sounds like you are including companies other than Tesla. What companies are you thinking of? They all (other than Tesla) seem to bend over backwards to point out that, much like with autopilot on a plane, the driver has to monitor and be prepared to take action.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Today’s theme is “lying grifters making life worse for the rest of us.” It started with COVID misinformation and now it’s proceeding with intrusive surveillance that would have been a lot less likely if Elon Musk hadn’t used the term “full self-driving” to fleece the public.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Yup. Appears to be a recurring theme. Big government, Big Tech, Big something is trying to control me.
      TTAC – The Talk About Control

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        “Big government, Big Tech, Big something is trying to control me.”

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_projection

        • 0 avatar
          Matt Posky

          I’d be more inclined to agree that I was a paranoid lunatic if this stuff wasn’t actively taking place.

          Surely you’re aware that automakers are focusing increasingly on data harvesting, right? We’ve been covering it for almost a decade and it just keeps getting more invasive. You don’t see any potential problems with normalizing in-cabin camera systems?

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            I didn’t say you were a paranoid lunatic, I just pointed out that “it” was a recurring theme.

            Self-conscious about something?

            And yes, I have an issue with being monitored.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I have a better idea. Instead of forcing me to be monitored every time I get behind the wheel of a vehicle that I own and paid for with my own money… how about not even equipping those vehicles with so-called “autonomous” systems that don’t work? There’s no way I’m getting rid of my 2016 Subaru Forester (without Eyesight or wireless connectivity) as long as it continues to offer anything approaching acceptable reliability.

    Re: Imagefront — “When this level of monitoring becomes practical (it already is) your insurance company will offer you some marginal discount to sign up for it and you’ll be watched all the time.”

    Before long… that discount will be the regular price of coverage… with payments being jacked up for anyone who has the gall to resist. In the end… big data will win because they will hit you where you live until you cry “uncle.”

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I think as long as people regard driving aids as aids, then they’re a healthy addition to the car’s safety systems. Even those of us who are hyper-vigilant (and the way I drive, I have no other choice) f**k up from time to time.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Do we need to burn AAA building or just stop buying it would be enough? We can always claim BLM did it peacefully

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    Wonder what it would take to dink with one of these cameras. “They” have probably figured out a way that the car won’t start if the lens is completely taped over.

    Maybe a thin smear of vaseline, not enough to affect light levels, but enough to reduce my image to a roughly human shaped blob?

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Might be one of those rare instances where a hammer becomes an appropriate tool for automotive maintenance.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I already have an idea. What camera essentially does, it looks at your face. You just stick a microfilm with a face on it. UR’Welcome

      • 0 avatar
        bullnuke

        When Keurig coffee makers came out with a Version 2, there was a scanner installed that would look for the bar code on the K-cup of Keurig-approved coffee. Put in a local brand K-cup (Kroger, Great Value, etc) which were about half the price of the Keurig brands and the machine would not work. The YouTube work-around was to cut the bar code from the approved K-cup and tape it over the scanner eye. Everybody’s coffee brand would then work. Or, as Matt says, a hammer but I’m sure there’s a kill-switch circuit involved somewhere that immobilizes the vehicle. Or will be, as was the case with Keurig.

  • avatar
    Greg Hamilton

    Remember when there used to be something called the Fourth Amendment?
    Unfortunately the Constitution is no longer taught in school, along with “1984” and “Brave New World.”
    But don’t worry important literary works like “Beowulf” and “Of Mice and Men” are taught in virtually every school in the U.S.
    Unfortunately the scientific method isn’t taught either. Just “Science.”

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Is it possible to fool the system by wearing a meme mask?

    https://tinyurl.com/536r8ydj

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I wonder why they didn’t test any self-driving 2021 Lincoln vehicles – I mean SUV’s.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    I don’t know what “additional sums being necessary for a customer to keep a reservation” means. If it means the dealer’s demanding additional money after you and they signed a contract in which you ordered a new car, that would be breach of contract if the dealer refused to provide the car.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    You have all missed the most important aspect. What happens when/if I and a potential suitor go to watch the submarine races? Will my car record what may or may not occur? This would be a make or break issue for my younger self.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    What else did we expect from a tech obsessed society?
    When I bought my 2019 Impala I deliberately looked for one without the stupid advanced safety package or as several of my friends refer to it “advanced money pit” package. The rearview camera and stability/traction control system are all I need.

    Meanwhile many of my colleagues and friends with Subaru’s, Nissan’s, Genesis and GM products have all suffered either problems or outright failures with these advanced aides at some point and much of that is due to age, weather conditions or road salt corrosion. In the case of a coworkers Nissan Rogue it was problems from day one of ownership with numerous trips back to the dealer. The issue- constant phantom alarms and warnings going off for no reason. And these insane car companies think we should trust them for making fully autonomous driving vehicles?

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