by Tony West and Daryl Payne
A few years ago, carmakers were clamoring for full self-driving technology or “autonomous” vehicles and many released concept cars with the goal of at least partial automation by now. It’s not so much that the idea was abandoned now as it is unregulated. However some manufacturers have still touted some of their new production models as having self-driving capabilities.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently announced the release of their safeguard rating requirements for autonomous and semi-autonomous cars. The goal is to include both audible and haptic warnings coordinated with driver detection and exterior sensors and cameras that already exist independently in most new vehicles.
The IIHS calls the claim manufacturers are making of their new cars being autonomous misleading. We couldn’t agree more. Actually, producing a vehicle equipped with autonomous driving capabilities is not difficult nor is it a new feature. Semi-autonomous capabilities are already equipped in many of the newer cars on the road. Some carmakers call it Autopilot or Pilot Assist or Super Cruise. Autonomy is possible because the fundamental feat is the coordination of adaptive cruise control with cameras around the vehicle and intricately placed sensors that already allow for Park Assist, Land Keeping Assist and Lane Departure Warnings, and the Blind Spot Monitoring System.
However, even with all of these safety features active and with the use of Adaptive Cruise Control which will maintain a driver selected speed and maintain a follow distance slowing and speeding up when needed, drivers will still have to control the steering wheel. Many cars, including the Tesla Model S exploit the full suite of safety features they have available to create a partial autonomous driving format.
“For now at least, self-driving cars are not available to consumers,” the IIHS stat report reads. The human driver must still handle many routine driving tasks that the systems aren’t designed to do and monitor how well the automation is performing and always be ready to take over if anything goes wrong. None of the current partially autonomous vehicles meet all the IIHS’s pending criteria.
IIHS has said carmakers have oversold the capabilities for their partial self-driving systems prompting drivers to misunderstand and misuse the system. This leads to dangerous conditions for the driver and the vehicles around them. In some cases, like with the Tesla Model X crash in 2018 in Mountain View, CA the outcome can be fatal.
The IIHS requirements seek to set a base safety standard that would be adopted by future production model vehicles with partial autonomous driving features. One standard would require multiple sensors and alerts to keep drivers focused on the road and hands on the steering wheel when autopilot is enabled. If misuse occurs with drivers not keeping a hand on the steering wheel and/or eyes on the road, IIHS standards would encourage there be a feature that slows the vehicle to a stop and notifies manufacture concierge or emergency services if necessary. Moreover, IIHS recommends that there be a lockout feature that keeps drivers from activating autopilot for the remainder of the drive or until the car is started again.
The criteria also includes certain requirements for automated lane changes, adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist.
The IIHS safety requirements are a welcomed regulatory win for those of us who want to enjoy innovative technology and not be in danger from those who misuse it. The hope is that manufacturers will be receptive to this proverbial slap on the wrist and adopt new tech that will achieve the IIHS safeguard rating, and not flout them as merely suggestions.
Check out the full IIHS requirements.