The Dangers of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)

Billions of dollars are pouring into the development of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). 

According to a 2021 research report from Canalys, ADAS features are increasingly available as standard or as an option in new cars, even entry-level models. For example, the lane-keeping assist feature was installed in 56% of new cars sold in Europe during the first half of 2021, 52% in Japan, 30% in Mainland China and 63% in the US. 

Clear potential benefits of technology

It’s easy to see why ADAS is proving popular. Just take an NHTSA study that looked at what might happen if all vehicles where equipped with fully effective ADAS technologies.

The research predicted that ADAS has the potential to prevent 20,841 deaths per year or about 62% of total traffic deaths in the United States. Lane-keeping assist accounted for roughly three-quarters of this, with pedestrian automatic braking responsible for the bulk of the rest.

A similar UK-based research project found that full deployment of the six most common ADAS could reduce the road accident frequency in the UK by 23.8%, representing an annual decrease of 18,925 accidents. 

This research found that Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) would have the greatest impact (ironically by causing the fewest impacts) – reducing three out of the four most frequent accident categories – intersection (by 28%), rear-end (by 27.7%), and pedestrian accidents (by 28.4%).

The human element

Unfortunately, like many innovations, harnessing the full benefits requires humans to properly engage, otherwise the benefits of ADAS could be offset to some degree. For example, a 2020 survey by Erie Insurance found that of the drivers whose vehicles have these features, 11% turn off forward collision warning and 17% turn off automated emergency braking.

"Drivers said their most common reasons for turning off or disabling features is that they find them annoying or distracting," reported Erie VP Jon Bloom.

The largest percentage of drivers (30%) said they had not used adaptive cruise control. The most cited reason was “I want to control the vehicle, not have the vehicle control itself.”

The second most disabled feature was lane-keeping assist. Almost a quarter of drivers (23%) said they turned it off, mostly because they found the feature ‘annoying’.

Technical challenges

Another consideration is that ADAS doesn’t always work as well as it should. There have been reported instances of phantom braking and also challenges where roadworks dictate that you follow temporary lane guides.

A study of automated emergency braking systems (AEBS) on passenger cars by ETSC’s Austrian and Swiss members KFV and BFU, also shows that significant improvements need to be made to performance in rain, fog, and poor light conditions. 

There is also the fact that a lack of full standardisation across terminology might create difficulty in understanding the capabilities of ADAS by drivers who might believe that the car will behave like another car but then find that it does not.

The bottom line – driving less carefully because of ADAS

Another factor to take into account is that it’s possible the ‘Peltzman effect’ could have an impact. According to a 2021 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), when applied to ADAS, the Peltzman effect predicts that drivers will become less careful, trusting the vehicle’s technology to protect them. 

The article states: “If a driver responds to driver-safety interventions, such as compulsory seat belts, crumple zones, antilock brakes, etc. by driving faster with less attention, then this can result in increases in injuries and deaths to pedestrians.” 

A related aspect is that despite warnings, many people treat partially automated vehicles as self-driving. The IIHS has also noted that regular users of Cadillac Super Cruise, Nissan/Infiniti ProPILOT Assist and Tesla Autopilot said they were more likely to perform non-driving-related activities like eating or texting while using their partial automation systems, than while driving unassisted. 

More worryingly, 53 percent of Super Cruise users, 42 percent of Autopilot users and 12 percent of ProPILOT Assist users said that they were comfortable treating their vehicles as fully self-driving.

As Automotive Fleet Editor Mike Antich points out: “The biggest concern with fleet’s adoption of ADAS technology in the US is the potential driver overreliance on the technology – drivers become lax in practising good driving behaviours.

Hans Damon, principal partner of U.K.-based Fleet 360, agrees. He said: “Our biggest concern is that ADAS is currently perceived as a replacement for a driver safety programme. It is not.”

The message is clear, organisations and fleet managers need to take more responsibility for education, training and communication in relation to ADAS to avoid a host of problems. 

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