Are Modern Driving Assistance Features Unreliable? AAA Researchers Say Yes

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is recommending automakers limit the use of advanced driving aids after concluding they’re not really up to the challenge of providing reliable safety.

Over the past two years, AAA has focused on testing crash prevention systems to see if they’re all manufacturers claim — deciding that while are useful in some instances, they’re far too inconsistent to be considered reliable safety nets. The group worries that making these features commonplace has created a false sense of security among drivers. While one might assume advanced driving aids have to be halfway decent to be put into vehicles, AAA’s pedestrian detection test from 2019 showed they’re anything but consistent.

On Thursday, America’s favorite motor club returned to report on its latest findings on five systems currently offered by the industry. For the test, AAA selected a 2019 BMW X7 with Active Driving Assistant Professional, 2019 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise, 2019 Ford Edge with Co-Pilot360, 2020 Kia Telluride with Highway Driving Assist, and a 2020 Subaru Outback with EyeSight. The group was sent to numerous testing sites in California, Utah, and Nevada, and given a 4,000-mile shakedown on public roads — where the outfit found the systems averaged a misstep or disengagement roughly every 8 miles.

Lane keeping seemed to be the system giving testers the most trouble, as it occasionally became befuddled by faded markings, automatically steering vehicles off the road in some instances. AAA said these incidents would have been exceedingly dangerous if the driver wasn’t paying attention or had placed too much faith in the onboard features.

This was made worse by cars tracking true and steering themselves through several shallow corners with aplomb, only to totally come apart and disengage in a nearly identical curve later.

Problems were not isolated to turns, however. Vehicles sometimes drifted out of their lane on a straight trajectory as well, only to over-correct and find themselves in the wrong lane.

Obstacle detection was another serious issue. Testing in a closed environment, AAA found that test cars typically hit stationary obstacles (video here) representing a disabled vehicle upon approach, rather than avoiding them. When encountering this test scenario, in aggregate, collisions occurred 66 percent of the time with an average impact speed of 25 mph.

“Active driving assistance systems are designed to assist the driver and help make the roads safer, but the fact is, these systems are in the early stages of their development,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations. “With the number of issues we experienced in testing, it is unclear how these systems enhance the driving experience in their current form. In the long run, a bad experience with current technology may set back public acceptance of more fully automated vehicles in the future.”

Automakers have, however, grown more vocal about how these assistance packages aren’t meant to replace an attentive driver (even though many literally steer, brake, and accelerate the vehicle for you). This has prompted loads of debate among consumer advocacy groups, which claim the language being used to sell these systems is misleading and that the systems ultimately dull a driver’s senses by lulling them into feeling overly confident in a car’s limited capabilities.

Even the way the cars were tested showcased some of the issues confronted by consumers. A few systems couldn’t be tested in a closed environment. For example, Cadillac’s Super Cruise requires a divided highway to work at all. But they all have their own personalities, with different levels of engagement and thresholds for disengagement. Ultimately, AAA said it didn’t see much (if any) improvement from the last batch of vehicles tested. The group also noted that legal experts and regulatory groups have started to caution that it may be decades before fully autonomous cars are ready for widespread deployment and that the systems that foreshadow their arrival could be doing more harm than good.

“AAA has repeatedly found that active driving assistance systems do not perform consistently, especially in real-word scenarios,” Brannon said. “Manufacturers need to work toward more dependable technology, including improving lane keeping assistance and providing more adequate alerts.”

Researchers have released the study in full if you’d like to see the metrics used and how the vehicles stacked up against each other. AAA wants the takeaway to be that these systems are still lacking across the board. It’s recommending the auto industry cool its jets until serious improvements can be made, and to stop trying to put these advanced driving aids into every vehicle they manufacture until they’re substantially improved.

a version of this article first appeared on TTAC

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