Automated driving hype “confusing” drivers, UK study claims

  • Thatcham Research warns technology designed to assist drivers misinterpreted as 'autonomous'
  • TestingAutomation consumer study identifies "worrying levels of confusion"; 71% of motorists believe they can buy a self-driving car while 11% would be tempted to have a brief nap while using current 'highway assist' systems
  • Euro NCAP launches assessment of 10 new cars with driver assistance technology
  • New video demonstrates why drivers should not become over-reliant on current assisted driving technologies
Thatcham claims all the current hype about autonomous cars is confusing buyers who think current models can drive themselves

Thatcham claims all the current hype about 'autonomous cars' is confusing buyers who think current models can drive themselves

New research here in the UK showed 71% of drivers around the world believe they can purchase a self-driving car immediately.

Thatcham Research described the finding as "astonishing" and said it was "just one of many worrying perceptions uncovered by the study, which also showed that one in 10 drivers would be tempted to have a nap while using a so-called 'highway assist' system, such as adaptive cruise control.

The TestingAutomation study, commissioned by Thatcham, Euro NCAP and Global NCAP, discovered potentially dangerous false impressions around the apparent self-driving capability of new cars and the safe use of highway assist technology.

Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research, said: "Some carmakers are designing and marketing vehicles in such a way that drivers believe they can relinquish control. Carmakers want to gain competitive edge by referring to 'self-driving or 'semi-autonomous capability in their marketing but it is fuelling consumer confusion. This is exacerbated by some systems doing too much for the driver, who ends up disengaged.

"Our message is that today's technology supports the driver. It is not automated driving and it is not to be relied upon at the expense of driver attentiveness. The driver is in control and must always remain alert. If used correctly, highway assist systems will improve road safety and reduce fatalities, but they won't if naming and marketing convinces drivers that the car can take care of itself."

Key findings from the study included:

  • 7 in 10 (71%) drivers globally and 53% in the UK believe that they can purchase a car that can drive itself today
  • Drivers of the top three brands believe fully self-driving cars today are Tesla (40%), BMW (27%) and Audi (21%)
  • One in five (18%) British motorists thinks a car marketed as being capable of automatic steering, braking and acceleration allows them to "sit back and relax and let the car do the driving"
  • Many respondents said that they would be tempted to break the law while using an assisted driving system by texting on a mobile phone (34%), making a hand-held call (33%) or having a brief nap (11%)
  • Only half (51%) of drivers believe they would be liable in the event of a crash when using assisted driving systems.

"The lack of driver training and standardised controls, symbols and names for these features, is further muddying the waters for consumers," Avery claimed.

Most drivers agreed, with 74% saying that all new car models should have standardised conventions for features such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping aids. In addition, 77% said they would be happy to watch a short training video or take an online course to better understand the functionality and limitations of a new car's assisted driving technology.

Automated driving 'reality check'

Euro NCAP has released assessments of the assistance technologies in 10 new cars, to help consumers better understand the limits of the systems.

It compared the performance of highway assist systems in the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, DS 7 Crossback, Ford Focus, Hyundai Nexo, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, Toyota Corolla and the Volvo V60.

Secretary general Michiel van Ratingen said: "Euro NCAP's message from these tests is clear – cars, even those with advanced driver assistance systems, need a vigilant, attentive driver behind the wheel at all times. It is imperative that state of the art passive and active safety systems remain available in the background as a vital safety backup."

Its key conclusions from these tests include:

  • No car on sale today offers full automation or autonomy
  • Cars on the market today can provide driver assistance but this should not be confused with automated driving. The driver remains fully responsible for safe driving
  • Used correctly, this technology can help the driver to maintain a safe distance, speed and stay in lane
  • These systems should not be used in situations they are not designed for and should not be relied upon as an alternative to safe and controlled driving
  • Automakers have implemented different approaches to the application of driver assistance technologies in terms of the level of assistance given to the driver
  • Euro NCAP's tests assess and highlight these differences and the varying degree of driver support each manufacturer provides

Avery added: "These new assessments are a heads-up for drivers on what these systems can and can't do and starkly shows their limitations, proving beyond any doubt that they are not autonomous.

"It's a delicate balancing act for carmakers. Offer too much assistance to the driver and they disengage, offer too little and the driver thinks 'what's the point?' and switches the system off. The best systems are those that support the driver but leave them in no doubt that they remain in control."

Rob Cummings, head of motor & liability at the Association of British Insurers, said: "The arrival of autonomous vehicles will undoubtedly bring a wide array of benefits for modern society through improved safety and convenience but Thatcham's research demonstrates that there are still worrying misconceptions about the current state of vehicle technology. It's essential that consumers know exactly what their car can and can't do and Thatcham are right to highlight their concerns."

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