- A new survey from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that people are confused by what self-driving technology can and can’t do.
- People were most mixed up about how much autopiloting is really possible with Tesla’s Autopilot system, with nearly 50 percent thinking the driver doesn’t need to keep hands on the wheel.
- The survey covered Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Nissan, and Tesla systems currently available on the market.
There isn’t a person alive who enjoys traffic. We love to drive, but we hate other drivers, right? The idea of taking a nap on your way to or from work is the kind of thing that inspires a fairy tale, and there are many days when we think about being among the first in line to eliminate a traffic-jammed commute from our daily lives.
While the current crop of level-2 autonomous cars offers some hands-off driving on the highway, a new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study indicates that the general public has a false sense of security when it comes to how much control Level 2 autonomy actually offers.
The study’s clear standout was Tesla’s Autopilot, and not in a way that’ll make Elon Musk trumpet on Twitter in victory. The study consisted of more than 2000 drivers, though not everyone in the study was asked about every autonomous system. Nearly half of those queried thought it was okay to remove your hands from the wheel with Autopilot engaged, whereas about a quarter of the surveyed thought the same was okay with Cadillac’s Super Cruise engaged. The ironic part of that is that SuperCruise is the only Level 2 system in the survey that doesn’t, at the very least, require intermittent hands-on-wheel contact. Super Cruise is geofenced and only available on specific stretches of divided highway. Plus, Super Cruise monitors the driver’s attentiveness with cameras.
The other Level 2 systems in the survey were Traffic Jam Assist from Audi and Acura, Driving Assistant Plus from BMW, and Nissan’s ProPilot Assist.
The study’s other questions asked whether the following actions were acceptable: talking on a cellphone, texting, watching a video, and the ever popular taking a nap. It is noteworthy that twice as many surveyed thought it was okay to take a nap with Autopilot engaged versus any other system (6 percent to 3 percent). Just so we are all clear about that: Don’t nap in the driver’s seat.
This study asked the questions devoid of any manufacturers’ names, and, quite frankly, this puts Autopilot and Tesla at a disadvantage. It is without a doubt the most recognizable name in autonomy. In part because Tesla as a brand is aspirational and because the name was ubiquitous in the airplane world decades before Tesla was even a car company.
This study claims that what manufacturers have named their respective autonomy systems somehow influences public perception. “Autopilot” without a doubt conjures images of globe-trotting Pan Am pilots or, worse, the movie Airplane. Just as with the lowercase word “autopilot,” the person in command of Autopilot must remain very attentive to the car’s surroundings. The onus of education falls on the manufacturer. Unfortunately for those companies, the modern car is disturbingly complex, and most of the public likely doesn’t care enough to learn the ins and outs of every system. Personally, I enjoy learning about new auto technologies. But even I sometimes gloss over reading about the baby steps the industry is taking in autonomy. What one system can do versus another is often very nuanced.
Keeping all the names straight is a whole other can of worms. I can honestly say that if someone came up to me and asked me if I thought I could remove my hands from the wheel of a car equipped with something called Driving Assistant Plus, I would have no clue they were referencing BMW technology. I’m not specifically picking on BMW, as all brands are guilty, but for the company that has ValveTronic, DoubleVanos, and TwinPower Turbo trademarks, why wouldn’t it call its autonomous tech something equally nonsensical, like DriveoMatic? Then I would at least associate it with BM, and word association is a very good first step.