AAA Cautions Consumers: Don’t Buy the Hype

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) –  Motorists using new in-vehicle technologies with names like AutoPilot or ProPilot, may believe the driving assist systems are more capable than they actually are, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. AAA is urging automakers to err on the side of caution when it comes to naming and marketing the new technology, encouraging car dealers not to overhype vehicle capabilities and reminding drivers that they, too, play a role in understanding the limitations of the technology and always remaining engaged when behind the wheel.

“As exciting as these new technologies may be, they are not as fully capable as some of their names might suggest,” says Jenifer Moore, AAA spokeswoman. “It is critical that drivers understand that there are limitations and always remain engaged when behind the wheel.”

Active driving assistance systems (ADAS) combine vehicle acceleration with braking and steering. Researchers found consumer information that stresses convenience and capabilities while minimizing limitations can inflate expectations regarding what the system can do and the situations that it can handle. AAA warns that a false sense of system capabilities created by marketing campaigns can lead to dangerous scenarios on the road.

“Based on data collected from our research, subtle differences in tone and emphasis significantly influenced people’s understanding of the technology and their expectations of its capability,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “These systems assist the driver and take some of the stress out of driving, but they don’t eliminate the need for drivers to pay attention.”

In this latest AAA Foundation study, 90 research participants received a brief overview of an active driving assistance system with a realistic but fictitious name. Before driving the same vehicle, half of the participants were told their system was called “AutonoDrive” and were given an upbeat training that emphasized the system’s capabilities and driver convenience. The other half of the participants were told their system was named “DriveAssist,” and their training placed greater emphasis on the system’s limitations and driver responsibility. Participants trained on AutonoDrive came away with greater confidence — and in some cases, overconfidence — in the system.

After completing the training and driving the test vehicle, 42% of the participants using AutonoDrive, said its name made the system sound more capable than it is, while only 11% of DriveAssist users felt the same. Also, compared to those who learned about DriveAssist, participants trained on AutonoDrive were more likely to believe erroneously that the system would behave as outlined below.

Sample Perception Differences Between AutonoDrive versus DriveAssist

AutonoDrive

DriveAssist

The system would make them feel more comfortable eating while driving

65%

27%

The system would make them feel more comfortable using a handheld cell phone

45%

13%

The system can take action to avoid a collision when a vehicle directly to the side begins steering into it to change lanes

42%

4%

The system can automatically reduce speed on a tight curve without the driver doing anything

56%

27%

“From our research, it’s clear that education and training can influence users’ expectations, how they will interact with and their behaviors when using new vehicle technologies,” added Yang.

Potential consumer misunderstanding of new vehicle technology needs to be addressed. In a previous survey, 40 percent of Americans told AAA they expect active driving assistance systems, with names like Autopilot and ProPILOT, to have the ability to drive the car by itself. AAA recommends that automakers provide consumers with information that is not only technically accurate but also balanced in terms of setting expectations that match what consumers will ultimately experience on the road. For consumers, there must be an emphasis on driver engagement and understanding the limitations of these technologies. Car dealers have a responsibility to educate car buyers on these technologies, but not to oversell a vehicle’s bells and whistles.

“Automakers are in the business of selling vehicles.  Understandably, they will emphasize convenience and system capabilities in their marketing campaigns.  But, their marketing campaigns, materials and consumer information should not mislead motorists,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research.  “Words matter.  We can do better by taking care to be more realistic in setting expectations for consumers such that the sale of a new vehicle does not come at the expense of safety.”

Drivers have a role to play, too.  They are responsible for taking the time to understand the technology in their vehicle.  New features, functions, and limitations should be understood before leaving the lot. Additional AAA Foundation research examined active driving assistance in on-road driving with research participants and found that when motorists receive detailed, comprehensive training on the system, they initially pay more attention to the overall driving task.

To reduce misuse or overreliance on the systems, AAA recommends that new vehicle owners follow this PLAN:

  • Purpose – Learn the purpose of active driving technology by reading the vehicle’s owner’s manual and visiting the manufacturer’s website.
  • Limitations – Understand what the technology cannot do; do not make any assumptions about automation.  An active driving system should not be confused with a self-driving one.
  • Allow Time for Testing – Allow time for safe on-road testing, so drivers know exactly how this technology works in real driving situations.
  • Never Rely On It – Do not rely on this technology; instead, act as if the vehicle does not have it with the driver always prepared to retake control if needed.

For more information, visit AAAFoundation.org and Newsroom.AAA.com.

Tyler Barker
Tyler Barker is currently the News Director and Digital Content Manager for WOAY-TV. He was promoted to this job in Mid-November. He still will fill in on weather from time to time. You can follow Tyler on Facebook and Twitter @wxtylerb. Have any news tips or weather questions? Email him at tbarker@woay.com