Study Calls for Improved Driving Monitoring for Level 2 Driving Assistance Technology

Christian Wardlaw | Nov 19, 2020

When independent experts review new vehicles for J.D. Power, they examine the car’s advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). Through this experience, it is clear that every automaker approaches the technology differently, from the decision to use camera- or radar-based technology to how long a Level 2 system will allow a driver to travel hands-free before issuing a warning. More important, it is clear that some systems are far more effective and trustworthy than others.

Study Calls for Improved Driving Monitoring for Level 2 Driving Assistance Technology

Now, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s (MIT) AgeLab have announced the results of a small study that finds as drivers learn to trust automated driving technologies, they take their hands off of the steering wheel and engage in distracting behavior more often.

For the study, 20 volunteers residing in Massachusetts spent a month driving vehicles with ADAS. During this period of time, the IIHS and MIT AgeLab recorded instances when the driver removed both hands from the steering wheel or directed their attention to their smartphone or the center console controls. Ten of the volunteers drove Land Rover Range Rover Evoques equipped with Level 1 ADAS (adaptive cruise control) and ten drive Volvo S90s with Level 2 ADAS (Pilot Assist with adaptive cruise control and lane-centering capability).

At first, researchers discerned no difference between the drivers of the two different models. After a month, however, the Volvo drivers were more likely to redirect their focus or to remove their hands from the steering wheel than were the Land Rover drivers. But this only happened when the Volvo drivers used both adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance at the same time.

“Drivers were more than twice as likely to show signs of disengagement after a month of using Pilot Assist compared with the beginning of the study,” said IIHS Senior Research Scientist Ian Reagan, the lead author of the study. “Compared with driving manually, they were more than 12 times as likely to take both hands off the wheel after they’d gotten used to how the lane centering worked.”

Level 2 ADAS is not a substitute for a driver. He or she must be ready to take control at any time. But the combination of adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assist makes it easy for a driver to lose focus.

“This study supports our call for more robust ways of ensuring the driver is looking at the road and ready to take the wheel when using Level 2 systems,” said Reagan. “It shows some drivers may be getting lulled into a false sense of security over time.”

According to the IIHS, testing shows that adaptive cruise control may have safety benefits that extend beyond forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. However, it also says the addition of lane-centering technology does not show the same promise, and there is a danger in consumers becoming reliant upon it. Therefore, the IIHS is calling for automakers to improve driver monitoring systems and to adjust how Level 2 ADAS reacts when a driver’s focus falters.

“Crash investigators have identified driver disengagement as a major factor in every probe of fatal crashes involving partial automation we’ve seen,” said Reagan.

The IIHS is the source of information in this article. It was accurate on November 19, 2020, but it may have changed since that date.

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