IIHS: Attention Slips As Drivers Get Used To Level 2 Automation

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A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that drivers tend to let attention lapse more as they get used to lane-centering driver assist.

In the study, 10 volunteers drove a vehicle with adaptive cruise control (ACC), or smart cruise control that maintains a follow distance and avoids colliding into other vehicles. A second set of 10 volunteers had adaptive cruise control and lane centering technology, so that the vehicle could drive on the highway without driver input. Presumably, all volunteers knew that the systems were not fully self-driving systems and that their attention would be required when driving, much like Tesla’s Autopilot.

According to IIHS Senior Research Scientist Ian Reagan, the two groups of drivers paid equal attention to the road when they first started using the systems. After a month, plenty of time for the volunteers to get used to the systems, those with both ACC and autosteer were far more likely to ignore the road than those with ACC alone. “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,” Reagan says. “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.”

The IIHS press release goes on to explain how the use of less than full automation can be more dangerous than either full self-driving cars (in theory, when they exist) or manual driving, because drivers are more likely to abuse the systems as they falsely gain trust in them. To solve this problem, different manufacturers take different approaches. Tesla uses the “nag” system that detects torque on the wheel, so it can tell whether one has hands on the wheel (assuming weights aren’t added to the wheel to defeat this safety feature). Some other manufacturers use a driver monitoring camera that will warn the driver and then disengage or stop the vehicle if the driver is not paying attention.

While there’s debate on which approach is best, with many experts favoring driver monitoring, one thing is not really up for debate: that the driver is still required to pay attention to safely use these systems. It’s important that drivers using semi-automated driving systems don’t fall into complacency and start treating systems like Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, or the Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta like they’re true self-driving car systems.

As the new FSD beta is out longer and longer, be sure to remind yourself and others to not do what the drivers in this study did. Safety has to come first.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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