Three or more decades ago drivers would take their eyes off the road to change radio stations or adjust the heat, which could lead to accidents. Now vehicle interiors more closely resemble jet cockpits and automated driver-assist features that keep cars in the lane or brake if there is the potential to hit another vehicle in its path.
In a recent study, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety determined that these safety measure has led to an increasing number of drivers to become comfortable with taking their eyes off the road. They came up with five levels of automation with 0 being no automation and 5 being fully self-driving. The legal technology at this time is level 2, which includes lane-centering and pilot assist cruise control that also brakes to accommodate a pre-established following distance.
The researchers let the drivers use vehicles with automation technology and then studied their driving habits. The findings include:
“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,” one researcher said. “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 learn bad habits from tech
The study went on to point out that the driver-assist systems like Tesla’s Autopilot, Mercedes-Benz’s Intelligent Drive and Cadillac’s Super Cruise are not fully automated driving systems meant to replace the driver. All these systems had trouble navigating many common road features, but the human operator still felt comfortable using their device or engaging in other behaviors common for distracted drivers.
Further action needed
Researchers added that those manufacturers who offer driver-assist technology need to go further. This includes ensuring that drivers are still engaged in the vehicle’s operation and ready to intervene when necessary. Examples of this include monitoring the eye movements of the driver or if their hands leave the steering wheel for more than a moment.
Transition likely to involve crashes
At this time, however, the transition from partially automated driving to fully automated driving could mean an increase in driver disengagement while human control of vehicles is still necessary. It will be interesting to track these engagement statistics as the transition continues.