New cars increasingly carry new driver assistance technologies. They are designed to help you drive more efficiently and safely. But what if they don’t help all the time? Studies show it’s still too early to rely on them. At the same time, drivers want tech that helps them keep control of their vehicle, rather than tech that takes control away.
Car tech we do want
Deloitte’s Global Automotive Consumer Study asked Australians the importance of certain driver assistance tech for their next vehicle purchase.
This is the top four (by the percentage who wanted it):
- 76% wanted blind spot warnings
- 72% wanted built in navigation systems
- 71% wanted automatic emergency braking (AEB – compulsory in Australia from 2023)
- 68% wanted 360-degree cameras.
The least important features were heated/cooled seats (40%), semi-autonomous drive mode (40%) and over-the-air software updates (42%).
A recent Canadian study found the car tech features motorists most wanted were somewhat similar:
- 55% wanted blind-spot monitoring
- 54% wanted pedestrian detection
- 54% wanted surround view cameras.
An earlier JD Power study also found owners like having cameras around their vehicles, especially rear view and ground view mirrors. So it’s clear we want to be able to see exactly what’s happening all around us.
Car tech we don’t want
The same JD Power study found respondents were most irritated by tech that uses hand gestures, rather than knobs. Gesture-related functions accounted for 36% of tech problems, more than twice the rate of the second worst functions. As one commentator said, the best use for gesture control is probably still to be discovered!
In the Canadian study, just over half said they rarely (or never) rely on their car’s driver assistance tech. Of this group:
- 42% found warnings distracting
- 56% said they turn off at least one of these features
- 63% turn them off because they are annoying
- 14% do this because they don’t trust these features.
UK research confirms the attitudes in this Canadian study. It found the average driver only uses 40% of the tech systems in their car. (This is similar to the way people use only a small portion of computer or mobile phone functions.)
- 78% don’t want unnecessary tech in their car
- 69% think car tech is too complex
- 61% would rather pay less for a car that has less tech.
However, these same people saw digital radio, parking sensors and Satnav as essential.
Overall, drivers want tech that helps them keep control of their vehicle, rather than tech that takes control away.
Does car tech work?
The American Automobile Association (AAA) has done many studies of driver assistance technologies to discover how well they work.
This year, the AAA examined how Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) and lane keeping assistance perform in simulated rain. Results were poor:
- One third of the time, a car travelling at 56kmh collided with the stopped car because it couldn’t detect it
- 17% of the time, cars travelling at 40kmh hit the parked car
- 70% of the time, lane keeping assist completely failed.
(The Australian government currently plans to make lane keeping assist mandatory in newly introduced cars for in March 2024, followed by all new vehicles in March 2026.)
Earlier AAA studies have shown disappointing results for driver assistance tech:
2018 – AAA found test cars did not stay in a marked lane in moderate traffic, on curved roads and at busy intersections
2019 – test vehicle did not stop for pedestrians, even when one crossed in front of the vehicle
2020 – test car collided with a test disabled vehicle and came too close to other vehicles.
We can only conclude that these driver assistance systems don’t work 100% of the time, so motorists have to behave as if they don’t work. That means giving full attention to driving, in spite of them.
Here is some car tech you might want.
Car tech you might love
Some of these features are in luxury cars already but will become more widespread:
Adaptive cruise control – It used to just slow you down on an expressway if you came up behind a slower vehicle. Now it can adapt for a tight corner or brake for a roundabout and accelerate the other side. It can also use fuel efficiently, by holding speed over small hills and identifying changes of speed limit.
Auto parking – Many cars can park while you are in the car but now they can park after you get out. This means the car can squeeze into a tight space. It can also get out remotely the same way.
Centre-mounted airbags – In case of a side impact or rollover crash, they cushion between the heads of people in the front seats.
Crash warning – Cars can prepare for a crash by alerting safety systems, tightening seatbelts or closing windows. If someone is about to rear end you, it sets off flashing lights, a Whiplash Protection System and applies the footbrake.
Intersection-scanning AEB – It uses radar or other system to detect whether vehicles are approaching from the side at intersections.
SOS – In a serious crash, telephone, crash safety and Satnav features link up to automatically contact a call centre and report it.
Variable ride height – Uses GPS to automatically raise the car’s nose for steep driveways or high kerbs, to protect the bumper or chassis.
Do you know how to use car tech?
It’s more dangerous to have car tech if you don’t know how to use it, than to not have it at all. Many people don’t know what tech is even in their car. National Safety Council (US) has a useful site called MyCarDoesWhat.org, which explains all the tech available on each model of car.
The best option is to get to know your car fully. Go for a test drive before you buy. Ask the salesperson to explain the features to you. Read the manual. It’s in everybody’s interest to learn to use driver assistance and safety systems, safely.
If you don’t, insurers may be unwilling to foot the bill for crashes that occur from misunderstanding or ignorance of car safety tech.
A crash on your driving record will push up the price of your green slip.