Driver acceptance crucial to new technology

Remember when anti-lock brakes first were available on automobiles? Those of you that do just might remember that we had a hard time changing our old habits of “pumping” the brakes. We didn’t have the confidence that just stomping on the brakes and letting the computer prevent the wheels from locking up would do a better job of stopping the car, and still allow for steering at the same time.

Now that more new technology, such as lane-centering systems, which provide sustained steering control to keep the vehicle in its lane, or adaptive cruise control, which functions like traditional cruise control but also adjusts the vehicle’s speed to maintain a minimum following distance from the vehicle ahead, is available on vehicles, we are finding that driver acceptance is crucial to letting the new technology assist us in safe driving.

In a recent report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), drivers had more faith in the automated systems’ ability to maintain a steady speed and a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of them than their ability to keep them safe in the center of their lane. That’s important because past research has shown that collision-avoidance systems can eliminate or mitigate many crashes — most of which are the result of driver error. Systems that automate certain driving tasks might go further, preventing risky situations from developing in the first place by increasing following distance, for example. But for technologies to make driving safer, drivers have to accept them and use them correctly, according to the IIHS surveys conducted.

The results confirmed findings from a similar 2018 study that showed people feel more comfortable with systems that make smooth, gradual speed or steering adjustments, as well as an earlier one that found drivers had greater faith in adaptive cruise control than active lane-centering systems. Across all vehicles, more than three-quarters of participants agreed that the automated systems accelerated and decelerated the vehicle smoothly and detected moving vehicles ahead. But fewer than half agreed that the technologies consistently detected lane markings on the roadway, detected stopped vehicles ahead, or that they knew whether the automation detected lane markings on the roadway. And those factors played a more important role in their general perception of how well the system performed.

“Better performance in detecting lane lines, detecting vehicles ahead and making smooth, gentle steering corrections translated into stronger agreement that the automation improved the overall driving experience,” says Ian Reagan, IIHS senior research scientist. Drivers were mostly neutral about whether automation improved the overall driving experience. That’s partly because they didn’t feel that the systems drove like they do when they’re in control.

“As carmakers improve this technology, features that ensure that people can only use it where it’s designed to work will be vital to safety and will also make drivers more confident in the automation,” Reagan says. New technology is coming rapidly. You can either embrace it or fight it. Hopefully you will embrace it.