Don’t Rely On Driver Assist Systems, Says Insurance Institute


Earlier this month, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published a paper titled “Reality Check” after testing five of the electronic driver assist programs for Tesla, Mercedes, BMW and Volvo, both on a track and on public roads.

The result? “Cars and trucks with electronic driver assist systems may not see stopped vehicles and could even steer you into a crash if you’re not paying attention,” writes The Associated Press in an article on the Insurance Business website.

That’s not to say that they can’t or won’t save your life in many circumstances, there are definitely situations where these devices can, and will, fail. The Institute’s chief research officer, David Zuby, reports: “We have found situations where the vehicles under semi-automated control may do things that can put you and your passengers at risk, and so you really need to be on top of it to prevent that from happening.”

The most frightening results from the testing was with the system in two Tesla vehicles, the Model S and Model 3, tested with the adaptive cruise control turned off, but the automatic braking on. While driving 31 miles an hour, both Teslas braked and prevented a crash, but still hit a stationary balloon. During tests on the track, the Teslas were the only two models that failed to stop in time.

An interesting point to note is that when the adaptive cruise control, a feature that keeps a set distance from cars in front, was active, the Teslas braked earlier and more gently—and avoided the balloon.

On the road, the tests revealed that all the vehicles but the Tesla Model 3 failed to respond to stopped vehicles ahead of them. These tests were performed by the Institute’s team of engineers.

Although the systems in the Teslas, BMW’s 5-Series, the Volvo S-90 and the Mercedes E-Class have been named among the best in the auto industry at this point and have been rated “superior” in previous IIHS tests, Zuby said the systems do increase safety but the tests show they are not 100% reliable.

Zuby’s advice is to read the owner’s manual carefully, as many of these situations are reported in them, and that even though the systems are named “Autopilot” (Tesla) or “Pilot Assist” (Volvo), they are not self-driving vehicles. “They will help you with some steering or speed control but you really better be paying attention because they don’t always get it right,” Zuby warns.

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