Consumer Reports: Do New Cars Have Too Much Automation for Drivers to Safely Use?

If you have been in a new car lately, there are a lot of changes taking place rapidly due to automation. Consumer Reports is concerned that new cars have so much automation that drivers don’t know how to use all of the latest technology properly. What are some of the concerns raised about Level 2 automation, and is there any way to fix it?

Consumer Reports says half of new cars can automate steering and speed controls

A highway like the one Consumer Reports says new cars would use automation on
Consumer Reports wonders how much automation new cars have and if it is safe enough for the public yet? | Marcel Kusch/picture alliance via Getty Images

Automation on speed and steering isn’t new. This includes cruise control, adaptive cruise control, and even power steering. However, Consumer Reports says there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. Many of these features might fall under the label of “active driver-assist systems” (ADAS). Consumer Reports says 92% of new cars can use adaptive cruise control to automate speed and steering.

Jake Fisher and Kelly Funkhouser both work at Consumer Reports. Funkhouser is the head of connected and automated vehicle testing at CR. One of the things the group has discovered is that automakers have been referring to standard features with increasingly more complicated names. This makes it harder for people to determine how a vehicle is equipped. Even calling features active driver-assist systems when in reality, adaptive cruise control hasn’t changed much.

CR also says that there is too little similarity among the symbols used in cars to activate systems. The problem with individual characters also applies to how warnings are displayed. Warnings displayed with an unknown symbol can confuse drivers for understanding what the car is doing or might need assistance with.

Many modern cars have these features, but drivers don’t know how to utilize said features

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One of the other significant issues Consumer Reports sees is that few modern cars have effective monitoring to confirm that the driver is engaged. This means that if a motorist is relying on various automation features to drive, there might not be anything to ensure the driver is paying attention. Another issue is the lack of standard names across the board. Different automakers can call systems anything, making it harder for people to track what the systems do across the board.

Most new cars have lane-keeping features or other features that fall into the Level 2 automation section. Consumer Reports says many of the systems that help drivers stay within the lane is less well-known. These systems don’t just help the vehicle follow the lane but might also interfere if the system notices the car going out of the lane or off the road.

A system like intermittent lane-keeping isn’t meant to steer a car down the road. A system such as sustain lane-keeping will help keep a vehicle in the center of the lane. It will alert the driver if the car crosses a lane or if the system notices the vehicle cross over the edge of the road. This is a system that automates steering and keeps the vehicle on the intended path. Combined with adaptive cruise control, these systems help make driving less stressful by keeping the car on the road.

The lack of standardized symbols is also confusing

There are a variety of symbols that have emerged as new ADAS features appear. The problem occurs when automakers do not standardize these symbols across the brand. That means that what might indicate lane-keeping assists in one vehicle might be something completely different in another car. For drivers, this could be overwhelming to ensure the correct system is chosen while driving down the road.

When Consumer Reports started cataloging the symbols used in modern cars, there was no rhyme or reason present. “Each student would have a different illustration, with some choosing to show solid lanes, broken lanes, steering wheels, straight-on perspectives, and bird’s eye views.”

These reasons lead to one conclusion: relying too heavily on such systems could lead to a negative outcome. Level 2 autonomy is helpful, but it isn’t ready for drivers to rely entirely on yet. New cars have a lot of automation, but people might not understand how to use each feature safely. It is important to learn which features your new car might have and how such systems can help.

Consumer Reports suggests that forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and blind-spot warning are some of the more important features. Standardizing the name and symbol for each system would go a long way.

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