Driving Dystopia: IIHS Suggests Driver Monitoring Systems Need Improvement

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has cooked up a new ratings program to encourage automakers to implement even more electronic nannies, including the kind that watch your every move behind the wheel, because the current batch have been deemed inadequate.

“We evaluated partial automation systems from BMW, Ford, General Motors, Genesis, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Tesla and Volvo,” IIHS President David Harkey said. “Most of them don’t include adequate measures to prevent misuse and keep drivers from losing focus on what’s happening on the road.”

By tweaking how vehicle safety scoring is handled, the IIHS can give any vehicle that lacks comprehensive driver monitoring a bad score. This will undoubtedly pressure automakers to adopt such features, lest they be penalized by having a lackluster safety score from an entity that’s entirely funded by a coalition of insurance agencies.

From the IIHS:

The Teammate system available on the Lexus LS is the only system tested that earns an acceptable rating. The GMC Sierra and Nissan Ariya are both available with partial automation systems that earn marginal ratings. The LS and Ariya each offer an alternative system that earns a poor rating. The Ford Mustang Mach-E, Genesis G90, Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, Tesla Model 3 and Volvo S90 also earn poor ratings, in some cases for more than one version of partial automation.
The ratings only apply to the specific models tested even though systems with the same names may be used on multiple vehicles from the same manufacturer.
“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.”
Vehicles with partial automation are not self-driving — though automakers sometimes use names that imply their systems are. The human driver must still handle many routine driving tasks, monitor how well the automation is performing and remain ready to take over if anything goes wrong. While most partial automation systems have some safeguards in place to help ensure drivers are focused and ready, these initial tests show that they’re not robust enough.

The premise that vehicular automation has been grotesquely overblown has been around for a while. Despite years of the industry telling us that self-driving was just around the corner, testing has shown many crash avoidance systems are still wildly inconsistent. Meanwhile, autonomous fleets have become a target for resentment wherever they’ve engaged in public testing. It seems like the appetite for such technologies has evaporated, with even the IIHS citing how these advanced driving aids often do little more than offer the illusion of enhanced safety. However, the industry has continued pressing onward while encouraging regulators to support more invasive measures.

The European Union has made plans to mandate driver-monitoring systems inside of all new vehicles starting in 2026. That’s almost assuredly going to involve driver-facing cameras ( something we’ve already seen crop up in select models) connected to the internet. The United States has likewise implemented plans to monitor drivers within the same time frame. But it’s doing so under the auspices of preventing drunk driving — presumably because Americans are less inclined to tolerate overt invasions of their privacy.

The IIHS has asserted that inconsistencies between automated driving systems warrant more safety nets. Rather than recommending lackluster driving assistance programs be abandoned until automakers can issue something more reliable, the call has been to hand even more control over to the vehicle itself — thereby giving manufacturers unprecedented levels of access to a product you’re supposed to own.

“The shortcomings vary from system to system,” said IIHS Senior Research Scientist Alexandra Mueller, who led the development of the new program. “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.”

IIHS researchers suggested that the intent is to encourage additional safeguards that can “help reduce intentional misuse and prolonged attention lapses as well as to discourage certain design characteristics that increase risk in other ways.” But the ultimate plan is to make vehicles more automated, as the group suggested preventing automakers from making design choices that would allow drivers control of certain systems. They may likewise be prohibited from deactivating certain electronic nannies, such as automatic emergency braking, unless the vehicle decides conditions allow for such action to be taken.

However the new keystone to advanced driving features will allegedly be driver monitoring and the IIHS has outlined a series of test procedures to determine that a vehicle’s on-board camera (which will be watching you 24/7) and related systems are up to snuff. Camera systems will need to identify where the operator is looking, whether they’re holding onto the steering wheel, if they’re holding a phone, or notice if their face is obscured. If so, the vehicle will need to respond accordingly to garner a positive score from the insurance group.

It also wants more aggressive reminders for when the car feels like you might be driving incorrectly. Most of these are centered around obnoxious chimes and vibrations to keep you engaged in what the automated systems (that encourage drivers to check out by nature of their design) are doing at all times. While this seems counterintuitive, habitually inundating drivers with lights and noise has been a preferred strategy with the IIHS in recent years. However, we’ve found that a large percentage of drivers don’t have any clue what the majority of the icons on their dashboard even mean. One cannot help but wonder if this is a sound strategy or just a way to make it appear as though something is being done while evidence mounts that modern infotainment systems are inherently distracting to drivers.

The IIHS has more details about the plan on its website, including information on some of the individual systems it tested. But the gist is that it wants to see driver-monitoring cameras become ubiquitous and looks like it’s about to get its way. This is despite the public repeatedly signaling its distaste for the general direction modern automotive technology has been heading and the strong likelihood that the further implementation of these systems will continue to raise the price of all modern automobiles.

[Images: BMW Group]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by  subscribing to our newsletter.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

More by Matt Posky

Join the conversation
2 of 54 comments
  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Mar 13, 2024

    "IIHS Suggests Driver Monitoring Systems Need Improvement"

    Many are critical of traffic cops.

  • Schmitt trigger Schmitt trigger on Mar 13, 2024

    Of course the insurance industry is the one lobbying for such legislation. It will provide them with additional clauses (excuses) to not cover an accident:

    ”You were stopped at a red light, when someone rear-ended you. Paragraph 6.b mentions that an accident is not covered if Taylor Swift was playing in the infotainment at the time of the accident.”

  • Jeff Glad that GM still makes a car for enthusiasts. Maybe if Chris is lucky he could get his hands on one it would make a good car review.
  • Tsarcasm Someone tell soft skull (musk) about the moss magnuson warranty act
  • Ajla Nice car.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Not at all.
  • Verbal Here's a little tale about long-term Tesla ownership.In 2017 my buddy bought a three year-old Model S for $68k, which was the going rate at the time. He kept it garaged and treated it with kid gloves. It looked and ran virtually like new. The only problem he ever had with it was some kind of recurring issue with the driver's door handle. He never had to replace the brakes.A couple months ago, at ten years of age, the original battery finally bricked. Tesla quoted him $17k to do a battery replacement. But! If he replaced the battery, they would give him $11k in trade on a new Tesla!!! You don't have to be a math genius to see that those are crooked numbers.Using aftermarket parts is a non starter. Rebuilt batteries can be sketch. And the cap that goes on the battery is a Tesla-only part.Most people don't have $17k burning a hole in their pocket for a car repair. What are you going to do? Ask your credit union for a $17k loan to put a new battery in your ten year-old car? Good luck with that.A local auto recycler quoted him $1000. The recycler said that if he replaced the battery, the car would have a resale value in the low $20k's. That wouldn't give him enough headroom to make it worth his while. He said there are 150,000 dead Teslas in the national inventory (don't know where he gets this figure). And there's no demand for used Tesla parts, since most Tesla owners seem to treat their cars well. So Teslas with dead batteries have marginal scrap value.Thus, my friend's Tesla, with 80k miles on the clock and in excellent condition, with a dead battery, was scrapped. During his ownership, the car depreciated by around $800 a month.He saved a lot of money by not paying for gas, oil changes, tune ups, and consumables. But in the end, all those saving were erased by huge depreciation.Welcome to long term Tesla ownership, folks.(Cue the wailing and rending of garments from the Tesla fanboyz.)