BMW April 2022

New research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that some drivers misunderstand the capabilities of the more advanced ADAS systems on the market, findings with possible ramifications for collision repairers.

The systems in question are examples of SAE Level 2 autonomy. SAE Level 2 refers to a system which can control its direction both forward and backward and side to side. Level 1 involves ADAS doing one of these things, but not both. (For example, adaptive cruise control without lane-keeping or centering-abilities.) However, the human is still always in charge of monitoring the road.

“None of these systems reliably manage lane-keeping and speed control in every situation. All of them require drivers to remain attentive, and all but Super Cruise warn the driver if hands aren’t detected on the wheel. Super Cruise instead uses a camera to monitor the driver’s gaze and will issue a warning if the driver isn’t looking forward.”

According to the IIHS, no mass-market vehicle advances to SAE Level 3 autonomy, where the driver can actually quit paying attention but must be ready to be a fall-back if the system encounters something it can’t handle. Human nature and reaction time might even make this a dangerous proposition in some cases.

In Level 4, the human isn’t necessary; the vehicle can self-drive just fine, but within a designated set of conditions. (For example, a well-mapped portion of a city at speeds 32km/h or less.) Level 5 is the vehicle being able to go on-road anywhere an average human driver could reasonably go.

The term “Autopilot” was far more misunderstood than the other brand names. “When asked whether it would be safe to take one’s hands off the wheel while using the technology, 48% of people asking about Autopilot said they thought it would be, compared with 33% or fewer for the other systems,” the IIHS wrote. “Autopilot also had substantially greater proportions of people who thought it would be safe to look at scenery, read a book, talk on a cell phone or text. Six percent thought it would be OK to take a nap while using Autopilot, compared with three percent for the other systems.”

“The name ‘Autopilot’” was associated with the highest likelihood that drivers believed a particular behaviour was safe while in operation, for every behaviour measured, compared with other system names,” the IIHS wrote. “Many of these differences were statistically significant.”

According to the IIHS, not many of the participants had ADAS experience, and even fewer had Level 2 systems like those studied. “A limited proportion of drivers had experience with advanced driver assistance systems: 9–20% of respondents reported having at least one crash avoidance technology such as forward collision warning or lane departure warning, and fewer of these reported driving a vehicle in which Level 2 systems were available. Drivers reported that they would consult a variety of sources for information on how to use a Level 2 system.”

On one hand, the study suggests driver confusion could lead to inattention, which in turn could lead to collisions. This could help keep shops stocked with business. So a bunch of drivers thinking they can text or read a book while such systems are engaged could push these frequencies back up and soften the volume blow to shops.

Dashboard indicators

80 test subjects watched videos of the dash and were asked about the adaptive lane control and lane-centering features. Half of them received some training about the system, while the other 40 didn’t. “While almost everyone was able to understand when adaptive cruise control had adjusted the vehicle speed or detected another vehicle ahead, most participants, regardless of whether they received the training, struggled to understand what was happening when the system didn’t detect a vehicle ahead because it was initially beyond the range of detection.

ADAS and roads

Ironically, a third ADAS study found that “for the most part, drivers use the technology where it was intended,” according to the IIHS.But the study also led to some more good news for shops. Some drivers used the technology where they probably shouldn’t. “Driving automation could reduce crashes by eliminating some of the potential for human error,” IIHS senior research scientist Ian Reagan said in a statement. “But given the low use of the systems and the fact that most vehicles on the road today still don’t have these features, we don’t expect to see these crash reductions any time soon.”