IIHS: People are Confused about Self-Driving Technology

Jul 17, 2019 10:59 AM EDT | Hannah Smith

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A new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that people are confused about what self-driving technology can and cannot do. The survey covered systems found in Acura, BMW, Audi, Nissan, Tesla and Cadillac systems.

People were most confused about how much autopiloting is possible using Tesla's Autopilot system. Nearly 50% of survey participants think drivers don't need to keep their hands on the wheel. 

The confusion could lead to more accidents and fatal car injuries. According to DePaolo & Zadeikis, 2.5 million people are injured in motor vehicle accidents each year. Confusion over self-driving vehicle capabilities may potentially increase this figure until autonomous vehicles become more advanced and the general public is better educated.

Today, automation in vehicles is considered Level 1 or 2, which means that systems can perform one or more parts of the driving task while under the supervision of the driver. A good example of a Level 1 system is lane centering. 

Level 1 and 2 systems are far off from Level 5 automation, in which the entire driving task can be performed without human supervision.

Part of the problem, the IIHS says, is that the names of these systems are confusing. Tesla's system, for example, is called Autopilot, which may confuse drivers into thinking that they can turn their eyes and thoughts elsewhere.

As part of the survey, 2,000 drivers were asked about Level 2 system names on the market: Autopilot (Tesla), Super Cruise (Cadillac), Traffic Jam Assist (Audi and Acura), ProPilot Assist (Nissan) and Driving Assistant Plus (BMW). Participants were given the names of the systems, but not the brands associated with them or any information about them.

When asked whether it would be safe to take your hands off the wheel while using one of these systems, 48% said they thought it would be when using the Autopilot system compared to 33% or fewer with other systems. The Autopilot system also had a greater proportion of people thinking it would be safe to read a book, check out the scenery, or talk on the phone or text while using the system. An alarming number of people - 6% - thought it would be safe to take a nap while using Autopilot compared to 3% for other systems.

The study claims that the names of the systems influence public perception. Modern vehicles are becoming increasingly complex, which means that the general public needs to be better educated on their capabilities. 

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