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IIHS will add safety ratings for self-driving car systems

  • Self-driving cars don’t exist today, but that doesn’t stop automakers from hyping that these Level 2+ systems offer more than they can.
  • Now the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) wants to see how good these “partial automation” technologies are at identifying distracted drivers, the ones who should be actively participating, even when the car can change lanes or slow down the speed of other cars automatically .
  • IIHS will issue its first ratings later in 2022 and does not yet see an automaker’s system earning top ratings.

    Some drivers might call it Level 2+ autonomous driving, or maybe a partially self-driving vehicle. Companies call the technology these cars use things like Autopilot (Tesla), Pilot Assist (Volvo), and Super Cruise (GM). Whatever you call the fancy driver assistance systems in today’s cars, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is about to start figuring out just how safe they really are, especially when it comes to reducing intentional or unintentional misuse.

    IIHS announced this week that it will create a “Safeguard Ratings for Partial Automation” technology and rate these functions with one of four ratings: Good, Acceptable, Minor and Poor. The reason, IIHS said, was that the group hasn’t seen all the safer driving benefits that partial automation promises. In 2020, for example, a IIHS Highway Loss Data Institute study of 2013–2017 BMW vehicles found that while front crash prevention sensors and the addition of adaptive cruise control reduced the amount of property damage and personal injury, “the addition of lane centering made it even more so.” as part of the company’s semi-automated driving package had little impact,” the group said at the time. When Car and Driver tested driver assistance features in 2021, we found that they all had trouble identifying inattentive drivers.

    “Partial automation systems may make long journeys seem less onerous, but there is no evidence they make driving safer,” said David Harkey, president of the IIHS, in a statement. “In fact, the opposite can be true if systems don’t take proper security precautions.”

    To get a good rating, an ADAS must be able to track where a driver is looking, and it must ensure drivers are watching the road with their hands on the wheel — or ready to reach out for the entire drive. IIHS will also require a car to offer “escalating warnings” and have “reasonable emergency procedures” in place if the driver isn’t careful. IIHS said different types of alerts — “chimes, vibrations, pulsing of the brakes or driver’s seatbelt tugs” — are better than just one type, and that a driver who fails to respond to those alerts “will be locked out of the system.” should continue for the remainder of the journey until the engine is stopped and restarted.”

    IIHS does not expect an automaker’s system to get a good score when the first ratings are assigned later this year. “While most semi-automation systems have some safeguards in place to ensure drivers are focused and ready, none of them meet all outstanding IIHS criteria,” the group wrote in a statement.


    iih's new semi-automated rating system


    This would be a good place to mention that there are no fully self-driving vehicles for sale in the US today, although some automakers are pushing the capabilities of their systems beyond what’s real. “Some manufacturers have oversold the capabilities of their systems, causing drivers to treat the systems as if they could drive the car on their own,” IIHS wrote. “In egregious instances, drivers have been documented watching videos or playing games on their phones or even taking naps while driving down the freeway,” before citing an example of a 2018 fatal accident involving a Tesla Model X, at which the driver was probably playing video games “driving.”

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