Lexus Teammate screen Courtesy of IIHS

IIHS Gives Poor Rating To Automated Driving Systems From Tesla & 9 Other Companies

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Weren’t we just having a conversation about Tesla and Autopilot? Oh, yeah, it was just yesterday in a story about a trial set to begin next week alleging Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD system contributed to the death of Walter Huang on a San Francisco highway in 2018. Many readers had strong opinions about whether Tesla was responsible in any way for Huang’s death. Now comes a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, better known as IIHS, that skewers all automated driving systems currently available on vehicles sold in America.

Not to put too fine a point on it, IIHS says flatly that of the 14 automated driving systems tested from 10 manufacturers (some companies offer more than one system on various models), only one was rated Acceptable — the Lexus Teammate with Advanced Drive available on the 2022–2024 Lexus LS.

“Toyota continuously aims to increase vehicle safety,” Toyota said in a statement. “As a part of that effort, Toyota, among other things, considers performance in third party testing programs like NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program and IIHS’s Top Safety Pick program.”

IIHS President David Harkey was forthright — some might say brutally honest — in his comments about the group’s latest report. “We were certainly disappointed that more vehicles did not perform well, but that’s why we’re putting this out there. Part of what we’re trying to do here is to make sure that consumers understand that these are not self driving systems, that these are systems that are intended to assist you in driving.”

There’s no evidence that these systems make driving safer, IIHS said. They’re convenience features, though the public may think otherwise.

IIHS Requirements For A Good Partial Automation Safeguard Rating

IIHS has quite specific requirements that an automated driving system has to meet in order to qualify for a Good rating:

  • Monitors both the driver’s gaze and hand position
  • Uses multiple types of rapidly escalating alerts to get driver’s attention
  • Fail-safe procedure slows vehicle, notifies manufacturer and keeps automation off limits for remainder of drive
  • Automated lane changes must be initiated or confirmed by the driver
  • Adaptive cruise control does not automatically resume after a lengthy stop or if the driver is not looking at the road
  • Lane centering does not discourage steering by driver
  • Automation features cannot be used with seat belt unfastened
  • Automation features cannot be used with automatic emergency braking or lane departure prevention/warning disabled

Each system tested was given either a Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor rating for each of those criteria. The Lexus system scored four Good ratings, three Acceptable, and one Marginal rating. To view all of the systems tested and their rating in each of the eight categories, visit the IIHS website.

“There are no federal regulations, nor is there good consistent guidance,” Harkey said. “That was our reason for putting these safeguards together.” There is actually the potential for a poorly designed automation system to make driving more dangerous if it gives the driver a false sense of security, he said.

“We want to get automakers to be thinking about what the criteria are that they should consider when they’re designing these systems and how do they safely implement these systems in a way that will keep that driver engaged in the driving task,” Harkey said, and added that IIHS has been talking with automakers since the beginning of their evaluation process. “They know what we’ve been doing and what our goal is here, and I think for the most part the automakers agree in principle with what we’re trying to do.”

Seeing “Good” grades sprinkled throughout, even within systems that performed poorly overall, shows “it can be done based on the criteria that we’ve established. Now it’s a matter of the automakers choosing to take that next step and improve their systems,” he said.

Safety features weighed heavily in the evaluation process. For instance, a driver should be required to wear a seat belt and have automatic emergency braking and lane departure prevention turned on for the partial driving automation systems to operate.

The next most important area automakers must address is driver monitoring, Harkey said. “You need to have a camera in the cabin that is able to monitor the driver’s head and eyes to know where they are looking, and you also need to be able to monitor the hands to make sure that they’re not holding a cellphone or something else.”

A driver’s hands need to be free to grab the steering wheel if needed and driver monitoring features need to include escalating attention reminders to get a wandering driver’s attention back on the road ahead.

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IIHS Core Rating Principles

The IIHS has five core rating principles it uses to assess partial automated driving systems:

  • Partially automated systems need to ensure that the driver’s eyes are directed at the road and their hands are either on the steering wheel or ready to grab it. Escalating alerts and appropriate emergency procedures are required when the driver does not meet those conditions.
  • All automated lane changes should be initiated or confirmed by the driver.
  • When traffic ahead causes ACC to bring the vehicle to a complete stop, it should not automatically resume if the driver is not looking at the road or if the vehicle has been stopped for too long.
  • The sustained lane centering function should encourage the driver to share control of the steering rather than switch off automatically whenever the driver adjusts the wheel. Switching off risks disincentivizing drivers from staying physically engaged in the driving task.
  • Partial driving automation should be designed to prevent drivers from using it when their seat belt is unfastened or when forward collision warning /automatic emergency braking or lane departure warning/lane departure prevention is disabled.

Although the partially automated driving systems fared poorly in the IIHS testing, the group did say there is evidence that automatic emergency braking systems cut rear-end collisions by 50% and cut incidents of a vehicle hitting a pedestrian by 30%.

Automakers Respond To IIHS Report

“We are evaluating the results from the first-ever Partial Automation Safeguards test and will continue to work with IIHS in all matters related to customer safety,” Nissan said. GM said in a statement that Super Cruise “is meant to serve as an enhancement to the driving experience,” not as a safety feature (although, their advertising seems to suggest otherwise).

“This new IIHS testing methodology does not assess the performance of the driver assistance systems, instead it focuses on safeguards to prevent misuse,” Mercedes said in a statement. “We take the findings of the IIHS partial driving automation safeguard ratings very seriously.”

“We are certainly going to take in the results of these tests as our cars and these systems continue to evolve,” BMW spokesman Jay Hanson said on Monday. BMW now offers in certain U.S. models a more sophisticated driving-assistance system than the one tested by the IIHS.

The Genesis GV80 SUV that launches in the U.S. this spring will be the first model in the Hyundai luxury brand with an in-cabin camera to monitor the driver’s face and eyes while assisted driving is engaged. “This enhancement will also be rolling out to future Genesis products in the coming months and years,” the company said.

The Takeaway

IIHS has no official status. All it can do is advocate, cajole, and try to persuade automakers to raise their game. IIHS ratings are something many drivers take into consideration when deciding what vehicle to purchase, so manufacturers ignore the group’s ratings at their peril.

The hype and blather about self-driving systems looks like so much marketing hot air in light of these findings. Caveat emptor.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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