“Are we there yet?”
Ignore those plaintive whines from the back seat. When it comes to electronic driver assistance programs, the answer is: No. Not by a long-shot.
That was driven home last week by the warning from AAA that their tests showed such systems in vehicles on the road today may not keep vehicles in their lanes or spot stationary objects in time to avoid a crash, the Associated Press reported.
Some of the problem is semantics — the marketing of such driver assistance electronics with the words “pilot” or “autopilot” in them.
“These systems are made as an aid to driving, they are not autonomous, despite all of the hype around vehicle autonomy,” cautioned Greg Brannon, director of automotive engineering for the auto club. “Clearly, having ‘pilot’ in the name may imply a level of unaided driving, which is not correct for the current state of the development of these systems.”
AAA tested the systems on four vehicles that had adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking; vehicles made by Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Tesla and Nissan.
The auto club said the vehicles drifted out of lanes and hugged lane markers, struggled with moderate traffic, curved roads and streets and busy intersections.
According to the AP report, three of the four (vehicles) would have failed to avoid a crash when the vehicle ahead of them changed lanes and a simulated stopped vehicle was ahead.” Only the Tesla system brought the vehicle to a complete stop in all test runs.
Automakers said they make it clear that the electronic systems are designed to supplement a human driver and that the vehicles don’t drive themselves.
We remain fascinated by the electronic warning systems in today’s vehicles with their beeps of possible danger and audio warnings. And we’re hopeful that we may actually see the day when “intelligent” cars and trucks work out the bugs in their systems and make driverless vehicles a reality — a reality that could cut traffic deaths nationwide, give seniors a viable and safe transportation option, reduce hospital visits from injured passengers, curb instances of road rage and, perhaps, eliminate distracted drivers on their cellphones.
But we’re not there yet. Until that day comes, keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. You are still the pilot, no matter what the labels are on these electronic assistance systems.