Don’t rely on automated safety says insurer

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The AAA car owners’ group in the US has issued a warning to owners of new cars that feature automated safety functions like automated braking, lane assist technologies and blind spot monitoring cameras, suggesting that as useful as they are, drivers still need to rely on themselves most of all to stay safe on the road.

“Tests found that these systems are a great asset to drivers, but there is a learning curve,” AAA managing director of automotive engineering said in a statement (via CNN). On top of that he said, the technology is far from infallible. For example, blind spot detection software has a much harder time picking up on fast moving cars – such as when you’re joining a motorway – than it does with slower ones. Similarly, it takes it 26 per cent longer to spot a motorbike than a car, so for that reason alone it’s worth looking over your shoulder too.

The same sort of issues were present with lane departure technology too. While clear, well defined road markings made it very easy for some vehicle’s systems to give the driver a warning and even correct their path on the road, if that’s not the case, problems can crop up. If road markings are old and worn, covered in dirt, dirty water or snow, there’s a good chance that the lane assist technology won’t be able to pick up the dividers and therefore, can’t tell you if you’re crossing them.

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AAA also warned that many of these automated warning systems can become a bit overwhelming for some drivers. Those not used to them can find themselves tripping the safety systems regularly, leading to a barrage of messages and beeps.

“This can be annoying and could result in the driver disabling the system due to the false alerts,” said Megan McKernan, manager of automotive engineering at an Auto club in California; though that of course is the prerogative of the driver and not necessarily the fault of the safety systems.

Of course while these new automated systems aren’t infallible, neither are human drivers, so they still offer a benefit and can allow drivers to be much safer on the roadways if used correctly and if we understand their limitations. They’re also a stepping stone to fully automated vehicles, which are in-fact set to be tested on UK roads next year.

However, the fact that these technologies have these problems is a great warning to those that believe fully autonomous vehicles are ready for all roads right now. Clearly more needs to be done to make them safer and more reliable in a variety of situations and weather types. It’s also a great indicator that we will probably need someone behind the wheel of driverless vehicles, just in-case they can’t handle a certain situation. When those “situations” become less and less, that’s when we’ll start to see the driver removed from the equation entirely.

Image source: Volvo, Nissan

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.