Many drivers view driver assistance tools as fully autonomous

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A new study has found that many drivers using driver assistance tools often treat their vehicles as if they were fully autonomous.

The study warns that drivers who place too much faith in driver assistance technologies put themselves at risk of serious accidents.

The research involved drivers of three vehicles that offer advanced driver assistance systems. Each vehicle came from one of three companies: Cadillac, Nissan/Infiniti and Tesla.

The study was conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a nonprofit group funded by American’s Insurance industry. The group conducts crash research and testing and seeks to persuade automakers to design safer vehicles.

The IIHS says it surveyed 600 drivers who often use automaker driver assistance tools. A majority of users said they were more likely to perform non-driving activities, such as eating or texting, while using assistive technologies.

Cadillac’s driver assistance tool is called Super Cruise. The study found that 53% of active users of this system said “they were comfortable treating their vehicles as fully autonomous. Tesla’s driver assistance system is called Autopilot.

Research showed that 42% of drivers using this tool said the same. And 12% of drivers using Nissan/Infiniti’s ProPILOT Assist technology said they also felt comfortable treating their vehicles as fully autonomous.

The findings come even as automakers have repeatedly warned drivers that they should never rely entirely on driver assistance for full vehicle operation. Users are advised to be fully prepared to take control of the ride at all times.

There have also been high-profile accidents involving cars with a driver assistance program.

Both Super Cruise and Autopilot have a characteristic which disables the vehicle’s advanced driver assistance system if users seem inattentive while driving. The study found that around 40% of Autopilot and Super Cruise users said the systems had at some point turned off while they were driving and would not wake up.

IIHS President David Harkey said in a statement, “The overall message here is that the beginning adopters of these systems still have a poor understanding of the limitations of the technology.” He added that it is possible that “the design and marketing of the system adds to these misconceptions.”

The study comes as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigates a series of crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot system. Since 2016, NHTSA has opened 37 special investigations involving 18 deaths in crashes involving Tesla vehicles where systems like Autopilot were suspected of being used.

Tesla did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters news agency. But the company has said in the past that Autopilot is intended for use with a driver fully attentive and ready to take control of the vehicle’s operation.

General Motors, which produces Cadillac models, said it “believes the driver commitment is essential and necessary to operate any advanced driver assistance system in any vehicle sold by us.”

The IIHS said the ads for Super Cruise focused on the system’s “hands-free” capabilities. He noted that the autopilot uses the same description used in passenger aircraft, which “involved Tesla’s system performs better than it actually is.”

By comparison, the IIHS said ProPILOT Assist “suggests it’s an assist feature, rather than a replacement for the driver.”

Nissan said its name “clearly communicates ProPILOT Assist as a driver assistance system, and … requires hands-on operation.”

I am Brian Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Reuters.

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words in this story

Insurance nm an agreement where you pay a company and they pay your costs if you have an accident, injury, etc.

comfortable – adj. not causing physically unpleasant sensations, but producing physical comfort

characteristic nm a typical quality or an important part of something

adopt v. accept or declare using something new

false idea – nm an understanding of something that is wrong

engage v. to interest someone in something and make them think

imply v. to suggest or show something, without saying it directly

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