Consumers may have misconceptions about driver-assist features

The promise of autonomous vehicles has tantalized vehicle manufacturers and drivers alike, but it's expected that it could still be years or more before a widespread rollout of such technology occurs. In the meantime, it's more likely that driver-assist safety features will proliferate, allowing drivers to be a little more reactive — and safe — behind the wheel even if a computer hasn't taken full control.

However, there seems to be a sizable gap between what drivers believe these systems can do for them, and what kind of capabilities they actually possess, according to a new study from AAA. Specifically, the study examined lane-keeping and speed controls, and how marketing from vehicle manufacturers affected consumers' perception of how much these systems can do.

Motorists may not fully understand what driver-assist features actually do.Motorists may not fully understand what driver-assist features actually do.

Unfortunately, it seems that while there are some positive aspects of the marketing efforts helping people understand what driver-assist can do for them, the marketing might overstate or mislead consumers into believing the system to be more powerful than they actually are, the study found. With viewers having an outsized confidence in how lane- and speed-control systems perform, researchers expressed concern that this could lead to dangerous behavior behind the wheel.

The study noted that such risk is especially prevalent because, outside of a testing setting, drivers have a "a greater likelihood to report willingness to engage in potentially distracting or risky behaviors while driving in the condition that emphasized capabilities."

Understanding the disconnect
With all this in mind, however, it seems that consumers are still largely wary of driver-assist technology features, including those that help in accelerating, stopping and steering, according to the recent J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Tech Experience Index Study. While smart vehicle technology such as back-up and ground-view cameras tended to earn high marks from respondents — and was listed as something the vast majority of those polled "definitely will" want in their next vehicle — other systems were far less popular.

Only a relatively small share of motorists said they had positive experiences with such systems, and more often, they were apt to feel the driver-assist features were "annoying or distracting," the survey found. Nonetheless, the researchers granted awards to some driver-warning offerings, such as rear cross traffic warning technology and live traffic monitoring for navigation systems.

Strong possibilities
The good news for automakers and motorists alike is that as these features proliferate they likely have a lot of promise when it comes to reducing risk on the road, according to a new study by the industry group the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. These were the findings of an examination of some 2,000 accidents involving 62 companies that operate vehicles weighing at least 33,000 pounds (that is, tractor trailers and other large autos). Broadly speaking, it was found that vehicles with forward collision warnings suffered 22% fewer crashes, and those with automatic braking were involved with 12% fewer crashes.

Specifically, these technologies were highly effective at reducing the odds that trucks would be rear-ended when they stopped short, cutting incidents by 44% for forward collision warnings and 41% for automatic braking, the report said. Typically, such accidents are significantly more dangerous than standard crashes because a single truck can weigh as much as 30 times more than a passenger vehicle.

"This study provides evidence that forward collision warning and AEB greatly reduce crash risk for tractor-trailers and other large trucks," IIHS Director of Statistical Services Eric Teoh said. "That's important information for trucking companies and drivers who are weighing the costs and benefits of these options on their next vehicles."

With all this in mind, it's clear that there are multiple factors at play for automakers to consider. The first is that this technology clearly works, and as long as consumers have better information about what these systems can do, they may be more likely to adopt and utilize it. Effectively educating them about both the positive outcomes this tech can have in reducing accidents and how the systems actually work could go a long way toward ensuring successful adoption in the years ahead.

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