Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announcement

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is developing a new ratings program that evaluates the safeguards that vehicles with partial automation employ to help drivers stay focused on the road.

The safeguards will be rated good, acceptable, marginal or poor. To earn a good rating, systems will need to ensure that the driver’s eyes are directed at the road and their hands are either on the wheel or ready to grab it at all times. Escalating alerts and appropriate emergency procedures when the driver does not meet those conditions will also be required.

IIHS expects to issue the first set of ratings in 2022. The precise timing is uncertain because ongoing supply chain woes in the auto industry have made it more difficult to obtain vehicles for testing.

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“Partial automation systems may make long drives seem like less of a burden, but there is no evidence that they make driving safer,” says IIHS President David Harkey. “In fact, the opposite may be the case if systems lack adequate safeguards.”

The need for driver monitoring and attention reminders has become apparent to many safety advocates. Consumer Reports has announced it will begin awarding points for partially automated driving systems, but only if they have adequate driver monitoring systems, and will factor in IIHS safeguard ratings once they are available.

Despite misleading messaging from some manufacturers, for now, at least, self-driving cars are not available to consumers. What many vehicles on the market do have is partial automation. The human driver must still handle many routine driving tasks that the systems aren’t designed to do.

The driver also has to monitor how well the automation is performing its tasks and always be ready to take over if anything goes wrong. While most partial automation systems have some safeguards in place to help ensure drivers are focused and ready, none of them meets all the pending IIHS criteria.

Today’s partial automation systems — which are marketed under various names, such as Autopilot, Pilot Assist and Super Cruise — use cameras, radar or other sensors to “see” the road. The ones currently on the market combine adaptive cruise control (ACC) and lane centering with various other driver assistance features. ACC maintains a driver-selected speed but will automatically slow to keep a set following distance from a slower moving vehicle ahead and then accelerate when the way is clear. Lane centering continuously adjusts the steering to help the driver keep the vehicle centered in the travel lane. Automated lane changing is also becoming more common.

So far, even the most advanced systems require active supervision by the driver. However, some manufacturers have oversold the capabilities of their systems, prompting drivers to treat the systems as if they can drive the car on their own. In egregious cases, drivers have been documented watching videos or playing games on their cellphones or even taking naps while speeding down the expressway.

To view the entire announcement, with additional graphics, click HERE.