A leading auto safety group tested fourteen partially automated systems, but only one passed

Self-driving cars continue to run into roadblocks — and cyclists, too — so automakers are doubling down on partially automated systems, figuring that customers will appreciate the novelty and convenience of a suite of functions that steer, accelerate and brake for them.

The industry insists that these systems are safe; some executives even go so far as to call them safer than human driving. But a leading consumer safety organization claims there is little evidence to support these claims.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a 65-year-old independent group that tests and evaluates new cars, has released its first rating system for partially automated systems. A total of fourteen different systems were tested. Eleven were rated as poor, two were marginal and only one passed.

Eleven were rated as poor, two were marginal and only one passed

Before we get to the rankings, it’s important to define what we’re talking about when we say “partially automated.” These are not self-driving cars; Motorists are still expected to pay attention to the road And monitor the system. And they must be ready to take control of the vehicle if something goes wrong.

Furthermore, these are not advanced driver assistance systems, also known as ADAS, which IIHS defines as safety features such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection and lane departure prevention. “Partial automation is a convenience feature,” IIHS spokesman Joe Young said in an email, “and while others may lump it together with ADAS, we continue to distinguish by referring to it separately.”

Partially automated systems use sensors and cameras to relieve drivers of some of the responsibility of operating the vehicle. They include features such as adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance and automatic lane changing. Some even allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel under certain circumstances.

The problem is that drivers tend to develop over-reliance on these systems even after a short period of use. And when it is time to take back control of the vehicle, their reaction times are slower than what is considered safe.

“These results are concerning considering how quickly vehicles with these partial automation systems are hitting our roadways,” IIHS President David Harkey said in a statement.

IIHS tested partially automated systems in 14 vehicles, including popular vehicles such as Tesla’s Full Self-Driving, GM’s Super Cruise and Ford’s BlueCruise. Only one was found acceptable: the Lexus teammate with Advanced Drive. Two were rated as marginal: GM’s Super Cruise and Nissan’s ProPilot Assist. And the rest, including BlueCruise and Tesla’s FSD, received a poor rating. (The full rankings can be found here.)

The reasons were numerous, but in general the systems rated as poor were found to be easily misled and poor at monitoring driver attention. Some would even work if the driver was not wearing a seat belt.

IIHS used a number of methods to trick these partially automated systems, including draping cheesecloth over the driver’s head to hide his face from in-car cameras and sensors, and attaching ankle weights to the steering wheel to protect the driver’s hands. to simulate the driver at the wheel.

The group put the vehicles through a series of tests via multiple tests, most of which took place on a closed course. Some performance categories were weighted more heavily than others. And IIHS notes that some vehicles in its fleet received software updates during testing, including improvements to the partially automated system. (For example, the group tested Tesla’s Autopilot before updating it after a recent voluntary recall.)

IIHS says there is a silver lining: No vehicle performed well across the board, but they all did well in at least one category.

“That means the solutions are immediately available and in some cases can be achieved with nothing more than a simple software update,” Harkey said.

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