At a time when car manufacturers are developing more and more semi-autonomous driving systems, American researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have put them to the test. to find out if they really help drivers be more vigilant with teddy bears.
The latest crash test results from the Institute for Highway Safety show cars are safer than ever thanks to modern technology. Of the 2021 novelties that were tested last month, 49 won the highest “Top Safety Pick +” award in the United States. We’re used to seeing cars get sprayed by the IIHS in crash tests, but the organization conducted an unusual safety experiment to test how a level 2 semi-autonomous driving technology such as Tesla’s autopilot can affect the driver’s awareness and perception of his surroundings.
Level 2 systems can control acceleration, braking, steering and speed in certain scenarios, but they still require the driver to be vigilant and intervene when necessary. With technology taking over the car, some drivers have a harder time concentrating on the road, resulting in several fatal crashes.
To check it all out, the IIHS strapped a giant teddy bear in a reflective vest (we can’t say yellow vest anymore) to the back of a car and compared the reactions of three different groups of drivers to see if they noticed it. Strange as a study on automobile safety. “There are a number of lab methods to measure situational awareness, but they don’t work very well on the road.”, explained Alexandra Mueller, researcher at IIHS. “The giant teddy bear in the back of the vehicle helps us objectively measure the driver’s attention that is relevant to driving and does not interfere with how that person drives normally.”
To test their attention when using semi-autonomous technology, 31 people drove a 2019 Mercedes-Benz C300-Class for about an hour on a stretch of motorway. A group of drivers regularly using Level 2 drove with semi-autonomous driving assistance enabled. Another group who had little or no experience with these aids also drove with this device on, while another group who were not familiar with the technology drove the Mercedes with the technology turned off.
During the ride, a car with the pink teddy bear strapped to the back passed each driver three times and stayed in front for about 30 seconds. The cameras then recorded the reaction of the drivers. Each driver was then asked if he noticed anything unusual. If the answer was yes, they were asked how many times they had seen the bear.
The IIHS has found that twice as many people who don’t regularly use Level 2 stand-alone technology haven’t noticed the bear. In contrast, almost all of the drivers who regularly use the technology and used it during the test saw the bear. This group was also more likely to correctly identify the number of times it appeared.
Of course, the test sample was very small, so the study is inconclusive, but the IIHS believes the results show that “Partially automated driving systems have the potential to improve drivers’ situational awareness” once the driver has gotten used to the technology. Drivers less experienced in the use of autonomous technology “May have more difficulty keeping up with what is going on around them when they are using as yet unknown technology.”