Automakers Misleading Drivers With ADAS Features, Study Finds

The use of the word “autonomous” by automakers’ marketing teams to describe advanced driver assistance systems – ADAS — is lulling drivers into a false sense of security, warns a report from Thatcham Research.

The analytics firm called for a testing regime to assess the true functionality of driver assistance systems, noting that current ADAS technologies are not fully autonomous and are not nearly as robust or as capable as automakers and OEMs claim.

A key element of the test includes the study of auto manufacturers’ marketing materials and driving manuals to determine how clearly system capabilities and driver responsibilities are explained, as well as an assessment of what happens when the driver is required to take back control.

Other elements of the tests include studying how drivers cope with enabling, activating, operating and deactivating the systems, and if the ADAS technology always complies with the law — for example, adjusting to local speed limits.

“The next three years mark a critical period, as carmakers introduce new systems which appear to manage more and more of the driving task,” Matthew Avery, head of research at Thatcham, wrote in a statement. “Fully automated vehicles that can own the driving task from A to B, with no need for driver involvement whatsoever, won’t be available for many years to come.”

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) joined Thatcham’s call to carmakers and legislators for greater clarity around ADAS capabilities, with risks to UK drivers outlined in their Assisted and Automated Driving Definition and Assessment paper.

“Names like Autopilot or ProPilot are deeply unhelpful, as they infer the car can do a lot more than it can,” Avery said. “Absolute clarity is needed, to help drivers understand the when and how these technologies are designed to work and that they should always remain engaged in the driving task.”

A founding member of the international Research Council for Automobile Repairs (RCAR), Thatcham has also been a member of the European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP) and has been a key proponent of vehicle security since the 1990s when it introduced the New Vehicle Security Assessment (NVSA).

In the US, the Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog have seconded those calls for an investigation into electric car maker Tesla’s branding of its Autopilot feature, as well as the company’s claims concerning ADAS technology.

The two groups called on the California Department of Motor Vehicles to look into what they call “dangerously misleading, deceptive marketing practices and representations” concerning the Autopilot feature.

Regardless of whether or not drivers are aware of the limited capabilities of ADAS technology, auto insurance may be in for big changes caused by more automated cars and more connected drivers.

A recent survey by J.D. Power found more than one third of all consumers would switch insurance carriers to get a discount for having driver assistance features in their cars.

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209.

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