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Study: Most partial automation driving systems need work

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(The Center Square) – The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says automakers should incorporate new rating programs into their partial driving automation systems to reduce traffic deaths.

The new IIHS ratings aim to encourage safeguards that can help reduce intentional misuse and prolonged attention lapses.

Out of the first 14 systems tested from General Motors, Nissan, BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benze, Tesla, and Volvo, only Lexus Teammate with Advanced Drive – earns an acceptable rating.

Two are rated marginal, and 11 are rated poor.

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.”

Automakers often imply that vehicles with partial automation are self-driving. However, driver assistance uses adaptive cruise control, lane centering and automatic braking via cameras and sensors but still requires the human driver to stay alert in case anything goes wrong.

The authors said that drivers using these systems tend to drive faster, look away from the road more frequently, and engage in more distracting behaviors, so systems must enact adequate safeguards in place to keep drivers focused.

“Some drivers may feel that partial automation makes long drives easier, but there is little evidence it makes driving safer,” Harkey said in a statement. “As many high-profile crashes have illustrated, it can introduce new risks when systems lack the appropriate safeguards.”

The new ratings program involves road and track tests to assess how well systems monitor the driver and issue attention alerts.

“The shortcomings vary from system to system,” IIHS Senior Research Scientist Alexandra Mueller said in a statement. “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.”

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.

The Ford Mustang Mach-E, Genesis G90, Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, Tesla Model 3, and Volvo S90 earned poor ratings.

IIHS expects improvements to be rapid.

“These results are worrying, considering how quickly vehicles with these partial automation systems are hitting our roadways,” Harkey said. “But there’s a silver lining if you look at the performance of the group as a whole. No single system did well across the board, but in each category at least one system performed well. That means the fixes are readily available and, in some cases, may be accomplished with nothing more than a simple software update.”

Scores are awarded based on tests conducted over multiple trials, and some performance areas are weighted more heavily than others.

In some cases, manufacturers are already making changes to their systems through software updates, which may result in ratings adjustments. The two Tesla systems evaluated, for example, used software that preceded the most recent recall in December 2023.

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