The auto industry is progressing at a rapid pace, but not so much when it comes to autonomous or self-driving cars.
This is normal—and frankly reassuring—when you think about the many complex technologies that will be used, the standards and regulations that governments will implement and the rigorous tests that need to be performed before these vehicles hit the road for real.
New studies published this summer reveal how much work automakers still have to do.
Misperceptions and Misunderstandings
First, the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) blames automakers for using confusing or misleading names to describe their advanced driver assistance systems, claiming that they can send the wrong messages to drivers regarding how attentive they should be.
Tesla’s Autopilot, in particular, seems to suggest that drivers can turn their eyes and their focus elsewhere. Heck, six percent of the participants in the study thought it would be okay to take a nap while using Autopilot, compared with three percent for other systems associated with semi-autonomous driving, such as Traffic Jam Assist (Audi and Acura), Super Cruise (Cadillac), Driving Assistant Plus (BMW) and ProPilot Assist (Nissan).
In reality, none of them reliably manage lane-keeping and speed control in all situations.
Another IIHS study found that drivers don’t always understand important information communicated by on-board displays, like how a system is responding to situations or when a system is temporarily inactive.
Understanding these displays is important because automated systems can behave unexpectedly and changing circumstances may require the driver to intervene.
While almost every participant was able to understand when adaptive cruise control had adjusted the vehicle speed or detected another vehicle ahead, most of them struggled to understand what was happening when the system didn’t detect a vehicle ahead because it was initially beyond the range of detection. Many also had a hard time identifying when lane centering was inactive.
A solution would be to provide an orientation at the dealership. The study showed that interface-specific training helped drivers notice changes in lane-centering activity and use the correct icons to determine system status.
On a related topic, J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Tech Experience Index (TXI) Study reveals that the constant alerts can confuse and frustrate drivers. In fact, many people admit they disable the systems or will try to avoid them on future vehicle purchases.
As Kristin Kolodge, Executive Director of Driver Interaction & Human Machine Interface Research at J.D. Power, correctly points out: “The technology can’t come across as a nagging parent; no one wants to be constantly told they aren’t driving correctly.”
A prime example of this is lane-keeping assist. On average, 23 percent of customers with these systems complain that the alerts are annoying or bothersome. And among them, 61 percent sometimes disable the systems, while 37 percent don’t want them in their next vehicle.
“If [consumers] can’t be sold on lane-keeping—a core technology of self-driving—how are they going to accept fully automated vehicles?” asks Kolodge. “
Interestingly, 69 percent of new-car owners have Apple CarPlay and/or Android Auto in their vehicle, which is not a good sign for future sales of the automakers’ factory-installed navigation systems.
The Most Driver-friendly Vehicles
Overall satisfaction with new technology ranges widely across the vehicles in the study. The best-performing model this year is the Kia Stinger, according to the same J.D. Power study.
The Hyundai Kona and Toyota C-HR rank highest in a tie in the small segment, the Kia Forte receives the award in the compact segment, the Stinger in the compact luxury segment, the Chevrolet Blazer in the midsize segment, the Porsche Cayenne in the midsize luxury segment, and the Ford Expedition in the large segment.