Drivers Want Safe Automation and Driver Monitoring, Survey Shows

A new IIHS report shows that drivers are aware of the risks of driver distraction, and want help staying engaged while their cars automate some tasks

2019 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise engaged Photo: Cadillac

Drivers want automation on their cars, and they want their cars to help them use that automation safely, a new survey from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests.

When the road safety advocacy group asked drivers about advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) such as lane centering assist (LCA), automatic lane changing, and driver monitoring, respondents said they wanted the features—but they also indicated that they wanted to remain engaged behind the wheel.

Already, experts at the IIHS, Consumer Reports, AAA, and the National Transportation Safety Board say driver monitoring can make automation safer behind the wheel. These survey results show that drivers want driver monitoring features as well.

Many drivers told the IIHS that they were interested in LCA, a feature that continuously centers a vehicle within its lane. But among those who wanted lane centering, the majority of drivers said they would feel safer knowing that the vehicle was monitoring them to make sure they were using the feature as it was designed to be used. And they told the IIHS that they knew they’d be more likely to become distracted or perform other tasks—such as texting—while using a “hands free” LCA system.

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In addition, more than half of drivers told the IIHS that they would feel comfortable if a driver monitoring system checked to see if their eyes were facing the road while LCA was in use because it would make them feel safer.

For systems that can automatically change lanes, survey respondents said they would prefer if the driver could initiate the lane change rather than the car making that choice for them—as Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot feature does—and that they’d want to have their hands on the wheel while the car was changing lanes.

These results are in line with Consumer Reports’ own findings on the topic. When we surveyed over 47,000 members about their vehicles’ ADAS features, we learned that drivers prefer systems that relieve stress and help them drive more safely—and that they don’t like features that interfere with the driver’s intentions.

“Research shows that when the automation is performing the driving tasks of steering and controlling the speed, and doing it well, drivers can become overreliant and complacent,” says Kelly Funkhouser, manager for vehicle technology at CR. “This survey suggests that most drivers know if something goes wrong behind the wheel and they aren’t ready to take over, it could lead to a crash.”

Our findings show that drivers of vehicles that can control speed and steering are more satisfied when it includes any type of driver monitoring system. They are most satisfied when that driver monitoring system checks to determine whether their eyes are on the road, rather than just checking to see if their hands are on the wheel.

Systems that check where a driver is looking are also more effective, research shows. “Just because a driver’s hands are on the wheel doesn’t mean their eyes are on the road,” Funkhouser says. 

Both reports come as an increasing number of vehicles feature some form of automation. Although Tesla’s Autopilot, GM’s Super Cruise, and Ford’s BlueCruise are some of the best-known examples, CR analysis shows that more than half of new vehicle models on sale offer systems that can simultaneously automate some steering, braking, and acceleration tasks.

CR recognizes the usefulness of these systems in reducing stress, and we are giving credit for them in our Overall Score—but only if they are linked with an effective driver monitoring system that can tell if the driver’s eyes are on the road while the features are engaged. We have tested these systems in many new vehicles.

“Automakers often assume that drivers want as much technology as they can get in their vehicles,” Alexandra Mueller, the IIHS survey’s primary designer, wrote in a statement. “But few studies have examined actual consumer opinions about partial driving automation.” The survey queried 1,001 U.S. drivers over age 21 on their feelings about lane centering, automated lane changing, and driver monitoring.


Head shot photo of CRO Cars CIA editor Keith Barry

Keith Barry

Despite my love for quirky, old European sedans like the Renault Medallion, it's my passion to help others find a safe, reliable car that still puts a smile on their face—even if they're stuck in traffic. When I'm not behind the wheel or the keyboard, you can find me exploring a new city on foot or planning my next trip.