The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is actively engaged in developing testing protocols that will let it accurately evaluate Level 2 autonomous driving features like adaptive cruise control, emergency forward braking, and active lane keeping. In real-world automatic braking tests involving 5 cars from 4 different manufacturers, it reported both the Tesla Model S and Model 3 failed to stop from 31 mph in time to avoid hitting a stationary target vehicle. For that test, automatic emergency braking was engaged and adaptive cruise control was turned off.
According to Business Insider, all 5 cars had automatic braking system rated “Superior” by IIHS. The five cars tested were:
- A 2017 BMW 5 Series with the Driving Assistant Plus function.
- A 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class with Drive Pilot.
- A 2018 Tesla Model 3 with Autopilot.
- A 2016 Tesla Model S with Autopilot.
- A 2018 Volvo S90 with Pilot Assist.
With Autopilot activated, the Tesla Model S outperformed the other cars, decelerating more gradually and braking earlier than the other cars to avoid the stationary object.
The Tesla Model 3 is the current darling of the electric car world, but during a 180 mile long drive, it slowed unexpectedly 12 times — 7 times after spotting tree shadows on the road and the other 5 times after detecting vehicles traveling toward it in another lane or crossing the road far ahead, IIHS reports.
“The braking events we observed didn’t create unsafe conditions because the decelerations were mild and short enough that the vehicle didn’t slow too much,” says Jessica Jermakian, a senior research engineer at IIHS. “However, unnecessary braking could pose crash risks in heavy traffic, especially if it’s more forceful. Plus, drivers who feel that their car brakes erratically may choose not to use adaptive cruise control and would miss out on any safety benefit from the system.”
But when it comes to automatic lane keeping, the Tesla Model 3 was the captain of the field. Cresting a hill is especially challenging for automatic lane keeping systems. As the road falls away, most of the cars had difficulty picking up lane markings on the downhill side. Not the Model 3. It aced the test 18 out of 18 times. It also outperformed the others when it came to steering the car through a curve. The other cars did not fare nearly so well.
The Search For Reliable Test Standards
“The new tests are an outgrowth of our research on Level 2 autonomy,” says Jessica Jermakian. “We zeroed in on situations our staff have identified as areas of concern during test drives with Level 2 systems, then used that feedback to develop road and track scenarios to compare vehicles.”
The testing protocols are designed to find out how much of the driving task can be handed over to safely to technology without drivers losing touch with the driving environment around them. “Designers are struggling with trade-offs inherent in automated assistance,” says David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer. “If they limit functionality to keep drivers engaged, they risk a backlash that the systems are too rudimentary. If the systems seem too capable, then drivers may not give them the attention required to use them safely.”
“At IIHS we are coached to intervene without warning, but other drivers might not be as vigilant,” Jermakian says. “ACC systems require drivers to pay attention to what the vehicle is doing at all times and be ready to brake manually.”
Zuby adds, “We’re not ready to say yet which company has the safest implementation of Level 2 driver assistance, but it’s important to note that none of these vehicles is capable of driving safely on its own. A production autonomous vehicle that can go anywhere, anytime isn’t available at your local car dealer and won’t be for quite some time. We aren’t there yet.”
The final score for Tesla? Pretty good in some areas, not so good in others. The IIHS testing reinforces the idea that drivers today must remain actively engaged in the driving process. Reading a newspaper, trimming your beard, or applying makeup instead of watching the road are things only stupid people do, people who have too little regard for their own safety or that of others.
No matter how much we may want cars that drive themselves without input from a human driver, that dream is still a long way off. Deal with it.
Hat tip: Dan Allard
Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.