Most Automakers Get Poor IIHS Rating for Driver Monitoring Systems

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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) doesn’t believe automakers are keeping a close enough eye on drivers as they use advanced driver-assist systems. A new report from the agency gave 11 out of 14 monitoring/safeguard systems on the market today a poor rating, while two are ranked marginal, and just one is labeled acceptable. None earn a good rating.

According to IIHS standards, a good rating requires systems to monitor the driver’s eyes and hand position and have two alerts within a 10-second span. If the driver is still deemed inattentive by 20 seconds, a third alert should be implemented or the car should begin emergency action to slow the car and safely exit the road. Regardless of the alerts, 35 seconds of inattentive action should have the vehicles slowing and exiting the road.

Monitoring systems should also require humans to initiate lane changes. Lane-keep assist should not disengage if a driver makes manual adjustments while it’s active, as this encourages drivers to actively drive. Similarly, adaptive cruise control should not automatically resume after a long stop, presumably in heavy traffic where things could be hectic. Lastly, if seat belts aren’t fastened or automatic emergency braking is disabled, the monitoring system should prevent the driver assists from activating.

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The IIHS study covered vehicles from Ford, General Motors, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Genesis, Lexus, Nissan, and Volvo. Lexus has the distinction of earning the acceptable rating, with General Motors and Nissan receiving the two marginal ratings. The study concedes that Ford gets close to a better rating, but the takeaway is that every driver monitoring system in the group falls short in one or more areas.

“The shortcomings vary from system to system,” said IIHS Senior Research Scientist Alexandra Mueller. “Many vehicles don’t adequately monitor whether the driver is looking at the road or prepared to take control. Many lack attention reminders that come soon enough and are forceful enough to rouse a driver whose mind is wandering. Many can be used despite occupants being unbelted or when other vital safety features are switched off.”

While the study is critical of these systems, the IIHS believes fixes can be achieved largely through software changes.

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“These results are worrying, considering how quickly vehicles with these partial automation systems are hitting our roadways,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “But there’s a silver lining if you look at the performance of the group as a whole. No single system did well across the board, but in each category, at least one system performed well. That means the fixes are readily available and, in some cases, may be accomplished with nothing more than a simple software update.”