How Will Assisted Driving Grading Improve Roadway Safety?

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Thatcham Research and Euro NCAP recently announced the launch of a new Assisted Driving Grading system that will provide motorists with a better understanding of how to safely use the assisted driving technology that is available in most of today’s new vehicles. Too often, there is confusion over the capability and performance of assisted-driving technology, and there is potential for car makers to overstate the capability of this technology. This can result in motorists relying too much on a technology that is meant to support the driver, not replace them. Unfortunately, this confusion has already resulted in serious accidents and fatalities. The Assisted Driving Grading system aims to clear the confusion and ensure that motorists have a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the current technology before car manufacturers take the next step toward automation.

According to Thatcham Research’s director of research, too many motorists believe that they can purchase a self-driving car now. However, this is an unrealistic expectation as these vehicles are not yet ready to cope with all driving situations. They are not meant to be fully self-driving cars. Until this is clearly understood by consumers, legislators, manufacturers, and insurers cannot proceed to the next step of automated driving.

How are Vehicles Tested?

Vehicles are tested across three performance criteria, including the following:

  • Vehicle assistance: This looks at the effectiveness of speed assistance, steering assistance, and adaptive cruise control systems, and which of these systems work together to control the vehicle’s speed and steering.
  • Driver engagement: This examines the accuracy of the car maker’s marketing material. They will determine whether the vehicle effectively monitors the driver to ensure that he or she is actively engaged in the driving process, if the driver can easily interact with the assisted system, and whether the vehicle clearly alerts the driver of the assisted status.
  • Safety back-up: This looks at how well the vehicle protects the driver in the event of an accident or an emergency. This also determines what happens if there is a system failure, if the driver becomes unresponsive, or if the vehicle is about to crash into another. In the event that there is a loss of sensor input, this tests the vehicle’s capability of protecting the driver.

After a vehicle is tested, it is awarded an overall rating using a sliding point scale across multiple categories, with 200 points awarded. Based on the points awarded during testing, vehicles are put into the following four categories:

  • Very good: >160 points
  • Good: >140 points
  • Moderate: >120 points
  • Entry: >100 points

What Do the Gradings Mean?

Entry Grading: A vehicle that receives an entry score generally provides assistance in less challenging driving situations, basic adaptive cruise control (ACC) and Lane Centering, and no additional features. In some cases, the vehicle’s performance in Assistance Competence is inconsistent between Driver Engagement and Vehicle Assistance, and safety back-up is limited.

Moderate Grading: These vehicles also had ACC and Lane Centering that performed well in less challenging driving situations. However, the system provided a better safety back-up compared to the entry-grade cars. This category also included unbalanced vehicles with good safety back-up.

Good Grading: In this category, ACC and Lane Centering performed well in most driving scenarios, and kept the driver engaged. They also provided extra features that offered enhanced driver assistance features and a good safety back-up.

Very Good Grading: These vehicles are generally equipped with state-of-the-art ACC and Lane Centering systems, as well as additional functions that support the driver and keeps them engaged. They also provide high-level safety back-up that assists the driver in challenging situations.

The first set of results provide consumers with information about assisted-driving systems that are currently available on 10 vehicles, including the following:

  • Audi Q8
  • BMW 3 Series
  • Ford Kuga
  • Mercedes GLE
  • Nissan Juke
  • Peugeot 2008
  • Renault Clio
  • Tesla Model 3
  • Volkswagen Passat
  • Volvo V60

What Vehicles Scored Highest?

The vehicles that scored highest were those that provided the best balance of driver assistance and ensure that the driver is engaged and aware of his or her responsibilities while driving. The following shows the grading of each of the 10 cars tested:

  • Audi Q8: Very Good
    This score was based on the vehicle’s exceptional Vehicle Assistance and Driver Engagement, making it a high-performing, well-balanced system.
  • BMW 3 Series: Very Good
    This vehicle offers a high level of Vehicle Assistance and Driver Engagement, which makes it a high-performing, balanced system. The functionality of the Driving Assistant Professional can be improved remotely by over-the-air software updates, according to Euro NCAP.
  • Mercedes-Benz GLE: Very Good
    This vehicle also offered a high level of Vehicle Assistance and a similar level of Driver Engagement.
  • Ford Kuga: Good
    This rating was based on the good level of Vehicle Assistance it provided and the similar level of Driver Engagement, resulting in a good, balanced system.
  • Nissan Juke: Moderate
    This vehicle provided the essential functionality necessary for Vehicle Assistance, balanced with a similar level of Driver Engagement. However, it lacked the sophistication of more advanced systems, and only offered a good safety back-up.
  • Tesla Model 3: Moderate
    This vehicle received high ratings for Vehicle Assistance but failed to provide the same level of Driver Engagement. This led to driver overreliance. Tesla may improve the functionality of its AutoPilot technology remotely by over-the-air software updates.
  • Volkswagen Passat: Moderate
    This vehicle provided a good level of Vehicle Assistance and Driver Engagement, but only a moderate safety back-up. As a result, it had a Moderate but balanced system.
  • Volvo V60: Moderate
    This vehicle offered a good level of Vehicle Assistance and a similar level of Driver Engagement. However, it only offered a moderate safety back-up, resulting in a Moderate, but balanced system.
  • Peugeot 2008: Entry
    This vehicle provided essential functionality necessary for Vehicle Assistance, and a similar level of Driver Engagement. However, it lacked the sophistication of other, more advanced systems, which resulted in an entry level grading.
  • Renault Clio: Entry
    This vehicle only provides the essential functionality required for Vehicle Assistance and a similar level of Driver Engagement. Its lack of sophistication in advanced systems resulted in an entry level grading.

What Methods were Used to Test the Vehicle’s Systems?

At Thatcham’s test track, the Very Good-rated BMW 3 Series was taken out for a test drive, followed by the Moderate-rated Tesla Model 3, and compared the differences in the systems at a similar size and price point. One of the scenarios involved testing how well the vehicles reacted to a stationary car in the road, with no driver input. Both vehicles responded well, but the Tesla performed particularly well in terms of braking in advance and coming to a smooth stop.

The same two vehicles were also given the pothole avoidance test, which involved placing a cone within the car’s lane. With the lane assist and adaptive cruise control activated, the driver had to quickly regain control of the vehicle and steer around the cone to avoid the pothole. When driving the BMW with the systems on, the test driver was able to easily apply steering, and the lane assist, and adaptive cruise control functions reactivated once it returned to the lane. However, the Tesla required real effort to deactivate the system’s set steering angle. The Tesla also actively discourages motorists from engaging from behind the wheel.

Can Advanced Safety Technology Really Save Lives?

While car accidents continue to be an unfortunate reality in this country, advances in safety technology can help prevent serious car accidents or reduce the severity of a car accident. The following are examples of advanced safety systems that are equipped in most of today’s new cars:

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Collision warning
  • Cross-traffic alert
  • Forward and rear collision warning
  • Lane departure warning
  • Pedestrian detection system
  • Road sign recognition

These systems can certainly add to the expense of the vehicle, including the cost to buy the car and repair costs. However, spending more upfront on a vehicle that is equipped with multiple safety features can prevent a serious accident from happening. Purchasing a vehicle with all the bells and whistles is a personal choice, and it is up to the driver to decide whether certain safety features are worth buying. It is also the driver’s responsibility to learn how to use the features that the vehicle is equipped with.

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