‘No Thanks’ To Hands-Free Driving, Consumers Say

More is not necessarily better when it comes to new and emerging technologies designed to help drivers. Many consumers have a strong interest in partially automated driving systems, but prefer those that require them to keep their hands on the wheel, stay engaged and have attention safeguards.

Those are the highlights of a new survey conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit financed by the insurance industry.

“Automakers often assume that drivers want as much technology as they can get in their vehicles,” Alexandra Mueller, a research scientist at the Insurance Institute and the survey’s primary designer, said in a statement. “But few studies have examined actual consumer opinions about partial driving automation.”

For the nationwide survey, which was released on Thursday, more than 1,000 drivers were asked about three common systems: lane centering, automated lane changing and driver monitoring.

Drivers expressed preferences for hands-on lane centering and driver-initiated lane changing features, and had a high level of acceptance for several types of driver monitoring, according to the researchers.

More drivers said they would prefer the hands-on versions of lane centering and automated lane changing. Both come in hands-free versions (drivers can take their hands off the steering wheel under certain conditions) and hands-on versions (drivers must always have their hands on the wheel).

Drivers also overwhelmingly preferred the versions of automated lane changing that give the driver more control than others. (In driver-initiated versions, the driver must physically trigger each lane change; with vehicle-initiated versions, the vehicle software determines when to initiate lane changes and the driver does not need to engage.)

The survey also showed that most drivers, for both hands-free and hands-on operations, said they would be comfortable with the driver-monitoring strategies asked about in the survey: sensors on the steering wheel and cameras tracking what drivers are doing with their hands or where they are looking.

Many drivers agreed that hands-free lane centering would make driving more stressful than the hands-on version, but those who said they would still prefer it were the most accepting of all types of driver monitoring. In addition, many of those drivers said that the hands-free feature would make driving safer and more comfortable.

The issue of misusing the technology was raised in the survey, with some drivers indicating that hands-free lane centering would give them more opportunities to do other things while driving.

“Such responses illustrate consumers’ fuzzy understanding of the limits of partial automation,” the study said.

“The drivers who were the most comfortable with all types of driver monitoring tended to say they would feel safer knowing that the vehicle was monitoring them to ensure they were using the feature properly,” Mueller said. “That suggests that communicating the safety rationale for monitoring may help to ease consumers’ concerns about privacy or other objections.”

Earlier this year the Insurance Institute introduced a safeguards rating program to assess how well partial automated systems keep the driver engaged.

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