Normally, confidence in a new technology increases over time. As people get more comfortable, fears of it tend to decline and the technology can take a place in daily life. We’ve seen this over and over, with things like the cellphone cancer scare, fear of vaccines, and many other things. But, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) like Tesla’s Autopilot, GM’s Super Cruise, and Ford’s BlueCruise are seeing a reversal in confidence.
AAA Identified A Problem Earlier This Year
Results from a AAA annual survey on automated vehicles indicate continued interest in partially-automated technology, but growing apprehension towards fully self-driving vehicles. This year, the percentage of fearful drivers rose to 68% from 55% in 2022, marking a significant 13% increase since the previous survey and the largest jump since 2020.
When the results were published in March, AAA emphasized the importance of automakers fostering an environment that encourages the adoption of advanced vehicle technologies in a secure, reliable, and educational manner. This includes providing consistent names for the vehicle systems available to consumers worldwide today.
“We were not expecting such a dramatic decline in trust from previous years,” said Greg Brannon, director of automotive research for AAA. “Although with the number of high-profile crashes that have occurred from over-reliance on current vehicle technologies, this isn’t entirely surprising.”
Despite recent advancements, AAA highlights the need for further improvements in building public trust and knowledge in emerging vehicle technology. They also say that dispelling confusion around automated vehicles is crucial. According to AAA’s survey, almost one in ten drivers mistakenly believe they can purchase a self-driving vehicle that allows them to sleep while driving, despite no such vehicle being available for sale.
Misleading or confusing names of vehicle systems on the market may contribute to this perception. AAA discovered that 22% of Americans believe driver support systems like Autopilot, ProPILOT, or Pilot Assist can drive cars without supervision, revealing a gap in consumer understanding.
“AAA seeks to partner with automakers to create greater consistency across the industry. Together, we can help consumers understand the type of technology their vehicle has along with how, when and where to use these systems, which will ultimately build trust in the vehicles of the future,” said Brannon.
Why People Get Confused
While AAA mentions the names of driver assist systems, and may be partially right, it’s also important to note that drivers of the vehicles using these systems get a regular reminder to not abuse them. Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD Beta systems have a system that “nags” the driver, and there are now interior cameras on many Teslas monitoring for signs of inattention. It’s also worth noting that the FSD Beta software can kick you out of being able to use it if you abuse the system enough times. Other automakers have similar systems that require user attention, even if they’re hands-free in some cases.
Two other contributors to the problems are probably the complex range of ADAS offerings available to drivers, and a general lack of good information available to the public.
When it comes to complexity, the SAE levels of autonomy are instructive. While the real question a driver should ask is whether a system’s designers assume liability for the vehicle’s operation (if they do, you can sleep), we instead have a complex set of possible systems people can buy. Some only do minor things, like warn you if there’s a car in your blindspot, or that you’re leaving your lane. Others take a more active role, maybe nudging you back into your lane or braking to avoid or mitigate a collision. Others do even more, like Autopilot. Car buyers might not know the actual limitations of a given system, leading to more misunderstandings.
GM’s Plan To Expand Public Knowledge Of These Systems
Last month, GM decided to do something to tackle the second part of this problem, launching “Hands Free, Eyes On,” a consumer education program to promote confidence in the use of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) as part of its commitment to safe technology deployment. By providing consumers with more information, GM aims to alleviate concerns and confusion surrounding the benefits of ADAS in today’s market.
“We know that to help achieve our vision of zero crashes, we must increase the adoption of ADAS and proactively highlight the benefits they offer,” said Scott Miller, GM vice president, Software Defined Vehicle and Operating System. “To increase usage, we must help drivers understand how currently available technologies, like Super Cruise, work and the responsibility drivers have when using ADAS features. We want customers to be assured of what we are doing to safely deploy these technologies.”
The “Hands Free, Eyes On” program explains the current state of ADAS, from active safety to hands-free features like Super Cruise. These features require the driver’s constant attention to the road, unlike fully autonomous driving. With Super Cruise, the driver is responsible for the vehicle’s operation, so their eyes must remain on the road at all times, even when their hands are free.
GM says it is dedicated to ensuring the safe deployment of current and future advanced driver assistance systems. They believe it’s crucial to help consumers understand the capabilities and proper usage of these technologies.
According to GM, a safe deployment requires:
- Testing and validating products
- Incorporating a wide range of sensor technologies
- Implementing driver attention systems in vehicle technologies
- Maintaining up-to-date maps through road monitoring and collaboration with the public sector
- Educating consumers and stakeholders globally
The Campaign Is Still Pretty New
It took a little bit of digging to find the campaign, and it appears to still be a work in progress. But, the press release did say GM would be working on it continually going forward, so we at least were fairly warned.
As of this writing, the campaign’s page seems to mostly be focused on making people aware that the system doesn’t drive for them. They have a nice corporate acronym, “SAFE,” telling people that they need to Stay alert, Always be ready to take control, Focus on the road, and Enjoy the ride (that last one seems optional, doesn’t it?). They also tell people to do things like RTFM (nobody does that), ask the dealer to walk them through using it (good luck), and use it on low-traffic roads the first few times.
They also have a two-minute video about how to use SuperCruise, as well as a FAQ section.
One thing I didn’t see was much effort to get people to check it out. The GM X (the social network formerly known as Twitter) page had nothing new since before the campaign. I did see one post linking to the campaign on Facebook, though. So, they don’t seem to have been pushing it or building on it much yet.
Hopefully GM expands the educational campaign and doesn’t abandon it.
Featured image provided by GM.
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