ADAS Titles Confusing US Drivers, AAA Study Claims

American motorists are unaware that ADAS technology with names like Autopilot won’t, in reality, drive their car for them.

These are the worrying findings of an AAA survey suggesting drivers are overestimating the capabilities of the ADAS offered by automakers, albeit it has to be noted that the study was limited to just 1,003 adults. That said, the research reflects similar findings recorded by an earlier global study of 1,600 motorists by the UK’s Thatcham Research, Euro NCAP and Global NCAP.

AAA’s survey found 40% of Americans expect partially automated driving systems, employing names like Autopilot, ProPilot or Pilot Assist, to have the ability to drive the car by itself. The study also revealed that nearly 90% of events requiring driver intervention were blamed on the test vehicles’ inability to maintain lane position partly because the technology struggles to cope with the irregular and complex nature of the real-world driving.

As part of the report, AAA tested four vehicles offering SAE Level 2 ADAS systems on a closed course to simulate common dynamic driving scenarios and also on public highways to evaluate performance in natural environments. The test vehicles selected were a 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a 2018 Nissan Rogue, a 2017 Tesla Model S and a 2019 Volvo XC40, and each test was outfitted using industry-standard instrumentation, sensors and cameras to capture vehicle dynamics, position data and braking intervention.

In general, tested vehicles performed according to expectations during closed-course testing but, in the real world, systems were often challenged on freeways with moderate traffic and by urban driving along surface streets.

Autonomous driving levels are defined by SAE standard J3016. With Level 2 automation, the driver is expected to maintain situational awareness at all times for the specific purpose of responding to objects and/or events that may require the driver to assume full control immediately. The research was conducted in partnership with the Automotive Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center in Los Angeles.

“With today’s exciting advances in vehicle technology, there is a greater need for naming that clearly signals to a driver what the system does,” AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations, Greg Brannon, said in a statement. “Vague or confusing terminology may lead someone to overestimate a system’s capability, unintentionally placing the driver and others on the road at risk.”

This is not the first AAA study indicating consumer confusion surrounds the capabilities of ADAS platforms with its September survey finding the vast majority of consumers did not understand the limitations of blind spot warnings, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning and lane keeping assist.

Meanwhile in Europe, a Continental study released in November indicated Germans are growing increasingly wary of autonomous vehicle technology, with the component maker concluding that a spate of accidents during US test drives was the likely cause of this change in sentiment.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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