Writing for LV= car insurance, Leon Poultney finds out if advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) could be affecting our ability behind the wheel and our safety on the roads.
Some experts believe that the widespread introduction of ADAS, which aim to aid the driver and ultimately improve safety, could actually be leading to increased driver distraction.
Then there are the thankfully rare cases when drivers are becoming too reliant on these systems, such as the driver caught cruising at 40mph in his Tesla in the passenger seat after switching on the ‘autopilot’ function.
A study conducted by France-based VINCI Autoroutes Foundation for Responsible Driving discovered drivers using some of these advanced systems had less control over their vehicles and longer reaction times.
‘The less work the driver has to do, the less alert he will be behind the wheel,’ Bernadette Moreau, General Delegate of the Foundation, which researches hazardous driving behaviours, told the BBC when the study was first released.
‘It is widely known that these tools are very effective to maintain safe speeds, but call for user savviness and awareness to be safe,’ he added.
Cruise control includes advanced cameras, radars and sensors to not only keep a car at a pre-determined speed, but also keep it in lane and at a safe distance from other vehicles.
A study last year found that, generally, the more cars with adaptive cruise control (ACC) on a motorway, the lower the risk of collision – but the amount of traffic had a significant effect. The introduction of a variable speed limit on the road, alongside the adoption of more vehicles with ACC, led to the biggest improvement in safety.
‘Without a doubt, adaptive cruise control makes life safer on the road, simply because it leaves a sufficient gap between the vehicle ahead if used properly,’ explains Tim Shallcross, Head of Technical Policy and Advice at IAM Roadsmart (@IAMRoadSmart).
‘However, the car-buying public needs educating about how to use these systems safely so it doesn't lead to greater distraction,’ he continues. ‘Just like the use of satellite navigation in the driving test, we could see some of these systems come into play at a learner level in the future.’
This thought is largely echoed throughout the industry.
‘Yes, most driver systems are present to promote safe driving and can be irritating to some motorists, but the majority are there to make life behind the wheel easier,’ explains James Baggott (@CarDealerEd), owner and founder of Car Dealer Magazine (@CarDealerMag).
‘But anecdotal evidence from my colleagues in the car industry suggests that many of these systems go unused, sometimes down to mistrust of the technology, but mainly down to the fact that customers don't understand how to use them.
‘Rather than simply handing the customer a key, the manufacturer and dealer has a duty to educate the user on any new technology to ensure it is used properly and safely,’ he adds.
Despite the advances in autonomous driving technology, we remain in a position where the driver is still pivotal in the piloting of a vehicle.
Until SAE Level 5 autonomy – a car that can do everything a human driver can do – is reached, human beings will be required to take over driving duties at any given moment, and this could prove problematic.
The Michigan Department of Transportation and Center for Automotive Research in the USA has released a paper that states: ‘Some evidence suggests that, after using autonomous vehicle technology, drivers show poorer lane-keeping performances, shorter headways, or delayed reaction times’.
The paper concluded that reliance on autonomous technology could lead to a reduction in skill when performing manoeuvres such as parking, maintaining longitudinal and lateral control, and adjusting driving style to suit certain weather conditions.
‘The biggest worry with some of today's advanced driver systems is that they can lull users into a false sense of security,’ explains Tim.
‘That said, certain features like automated and assisted parking functionality can actually help users park more efficiently and reduce the risk of awkward car park scrapes,’ he adds.
Although the modern vehicle requires far less maintenance than the motorcar of a bygone era, new driver assistance systems often require attention that can easily be overlooked.
Take windscreen calibration: vehicles fitted with front-facing cameras and sensors (typically used by adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking systems) require special adjustment if the windscreen gets replaced. LV= covers recalibration as standard on their comprehensive policies.
‘What started as a small chip soon transformed into a large crack, so the windscreen of the vehicle had to be replaced,’ he explains.‘But it's not as simple as putting in some new glass: the camera had to be recalibrated, which could only be done at a specialist centre . So what started as a small chip resulted in a visit to a specialist glass centre for a fairly major fix.’
Owners of premium vehicles with the latest driver systems, or those buying a car ready for the new UK number plates, could also experience system failure warnings if sensors or cameras become dirty or obstructed, or weather conditions affect their ability to function, so it pays to be vigilant and keep on top of any required maintenance.
Watch any car ad and you’ll see that every modern automobile has a number of the latest assisted driving features. And while these definitely improve safety, we as drivers still need to make sure we take the time to learn about them and avoid becoming complacent behind the wheel.