A “Reality Check” on Safety of Driver Assist Systems

by Terry Bryant

Electronic driver assist systems are designed by auto manufacturers to increase road safety. But recent tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) showed that if drivers are not paying careful attention behind the wheel, these systems can actually cause the accidents they are meant to prevent.

The IIHS tested five assist systems on public roads and on a track. The systems are classified as Level 2 systems on SAE International’s scale, which goes from “Zero Autonomy” to “Level 5 Full Autonomy.” Level 2 systems are semi-autonomous, offering advanced functions meant to assist drivers, but not replace them. They include advanced adaptive cruise control and active-lane keeping. Adaptive cruise control keeps vehicles at set speeds and distances from cars in front. Active lane-keeping provides steering assistance to keep cars centered in their lanes.

The assist systems and cars that were tested by IIHS included the following:

  • Driving Assistant Plus – 2017 BMW 5-series
  • Drive Pilot – 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
  • Autopilot (software versions 7.1 & 8.1) – 2016 Tesla Model S and 2018 Tesla Model 3
  • Pilot Assist – 2018 Volvo S90.

These systems are among the top assist systems among automobile manufacturers. All five also have superior automatic emergency braking systems – as rated by IIHS.

For the adaptive cruise control system, testing involved seeing how the system reacted to cars stopped in front and exiting lanes in front, and also acceleration and deceleration. The systems were put through various scenarios on the track, including driving toward a stationary object at 31 miles per hour with auto braking on and adaptive cruise control turned off. Both Teslas hit the stationary object. With adaptive cruise control turned on, all the vehicles avoided the object. However, on the highway where conditions were not controlled, tests found instances where all the vehicles except the Tesla Model 3 failed to respond to stopped vehicles in their path, and test drivers had to intervene.

With the lane-centering system, testing focused on curves and hills, which are more challenging for the systems than straight, clearly marked lanes. The only car that stayed within its lane for all 18 curve tests was the Tesla Model 3. The Tesla Model S overcorrected on one test and veered out of its lane and the other three systems in the BMW, Mercedes, and Volvo required regular driver intervention. When it came to hills, the Mercedes and Tesla Model 3 systems were the most reliable. The other three systems had more issues, including regularly steering toward or across the lane line, swerving in lanes, and veering into adjacent lanes or onto the shoulder of the road.

What is the overall takeaway from these IIHS tests? While these systems can aid drivers, they are not substitutes for careful human driving. Drivers of cars that are outfitted with assist systems should always stay alert behind the wheel to prevent accidents.

If you’ve been the victim of a crash involving a driver assist system, you should know that you have legal options. Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law has helped clients across Texas get the compensation they deserve after being seriously injured. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.