AAA: When it comes to new vehicle technology, practice doesn’t make perfect


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Owners of new vehicles equipped with driving assistance technology may understand it better after six months of use, but the depth of their knowledge is limited. New AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research found motorists who used the “learn as you go” approach did not understand the technology as well as another group of motorists who participated in brief, intensive hands-on training. Also, researchers became aware of a small, overconfident group of motorists who falsely believed their time behind the wheel gave them expertise with the system.

“Our research finds that motorists who are learning how to use driver-assistance systems in new vehicles need more than a simple ‘self-taught’ approach,” said Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs, AAA East Central. “But the study also shows that motorists who have been given the proper training are much better equipped to use the vehicle’s technology.”

AAA recommends that researchers, automakers, and government agencies work together to better understand motorist performance, behavior, and interactions in vehicles with advanced technologies.

Advanced driver-assistance systems are now common with features such as acceleration, braking, and steering in support of vehicle operations. The Foundation has previously documented gaps in motorists’ understanding of these technologies and the resulting safety implications. Less is known about how a motorist’s grasp of new technology develops and changes over time, which is the focus of this new report.

For this study, the Foundation looked at one of the most prevalent advanced driver-assistance systems found in new vehicles, adaptive cruise control (ACC). This type of cruise control assists with acceleration and braking to help maintain a driver-selected distance from the car in front. The Foundation examined how the understanding and use of ACC changed over the first six months of ownership for new vehicle owners unfamiliar with the technology.

The study found the following results:

During the first six months of new vehicle ownership, many motorists demonstrated an improved understanding of the ACC system’s limitations.

Despite learning more about ACC through regular use, the motorists failed to achieve the same level of understanding as another group that received short but extensive instruction on the system.

A potentially dangerous sub-group of overconfident motorists emerged who failed to understand ACC yet were highly self-assured in their knowledge. This development demands future study.

Some of the gaps in understanding include the following:

Falsely believing that the system will react to stationary objects in their lane, such as construction cones or other obstacles.

Falsely believing that the system will provide steering input to keep the vehicle in its lane.

Falsely believing that the system can operate in all weather conditions.

AAA recommends that new vehicle owners follow this PLAN:

• Purpose—Learn the purpose of driving assistance technology by requesting hands-on training at the dealership, reading the vehicle’s owner’s manual and visiting the manufacturer’s website.

• Limitations—Do not make any assumptions about what the technology can and cannot do. A driving assistance system should not be confused with a self-driving one.

• Allow Time For Practice—Allow time for safe on-road practice so motorists 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 so the motorist is always prepared to retake control if needed.

For this research, 39 experienced motorists between 25 and 65 were recruited. Each participant had purchased a vehicle equipped with ACC within the previous six weeks and it was not present on any vehicle they previously owned. Each motorist was assessed at the start of the study and several times during the first six months. Please refer to the full report for methodology details.

About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Now celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Foundation for Traffic Safety was established in 1947 by AAA. The Foundation is a nonprofit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by researching their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research develops educational materials for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users.

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