Wednesday, 02 December 2020 17:07

Partial Automation Causes Drivers to Let Focus Slip

Written by Steve Hallo, PropertyCasualty360
Drivers were more than twice as likely to become disengaged while behind the wheel after a month of using pilot assist technology. Drivers were more than twice as likely to become disengaged while behind the wheel after a month of using pilot assist technology. Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock


As drivers become more accustomed to partial automation in cars, such as lane assist and adaptive cruise control (ACC), they grow increasingly disengaged and often remove both hands from the wheel, according to research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and MIT’s AgeLab.

The study looked at two groups of drivers: 10 using a Land Rover equipped with ACC, which maintains a chosen traveling speed and maintains a pre-established following distance. The other group of 10 drove a Volvo featuring ACC and pilot assist, a technology that keeps a vehicle positioned laterally in a lane.


After a month behind the wheel, both groups were substantially more likely to take their hands off the wheel while using partial automation, with the Volvo-driving group being more likely to disengage from the road, IIHS reported.


“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,” Ian Reagan, IIHS senior research scientist, said in a release. “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.”


Drivers piloting Volvos were actually less likely to become disengaged while using only ACC compared with manual driving. However, with pilot assist available, only four of 10 Volvo-driving study participants solely used ACC, and they used it infrequently.


Conversely, the Land Rover group, who often used adaptive cruise, was more likely to...

...look at or pick up their phones while using the technology than when driving manually, according to IIHS.


While they were more likely to pick up their phones as they became more accustomed to ACC, those drivers did not increase the frequency of texting or other kinds of cell phone activities known to increase the chances of a crash.


Reagan, the lead author of the study, explained the research supports the institute’s call for more robust ways to ensure a driver is paying attention and ready to take the wheel when using partial automation. This is just one of the safeguards that IIHS has put forth to ensure safety and decrease driver disengagement.


We thank PropertyCasualty360 for reprint permission.

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