Researchers examine drivers’ understanding of vehicle safety systems

National Advanced Driving Simulator partners with AAA to research driver reliance and understanding of advanced driving assistance systems in vehicles.


A Tesla automated driving research vehicle sits in a garage on display during an open house at the National Advanced Driving Simulator in Coralville on Wednesday Oct. 10, 2018. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

As vehicles’ safety systems continue to advance, drivers may begin to believe less attention is needed and driving will now be easier. That appears to be the findings of a study done by the National Advanced Driving Simulator in partnership with the American Automobile Association. The study has demonstrated that the safety systems still have limitations.

The study showed that drivers rely too heavily on the advanced driving-assistance systems in newer vehicles, don’t understand the limitations of the systems, and aren’t always properly educated on how to use the systems.

Ashley McDonald, the lead researcher for the study, said researchers surveyed drivers’ experiences, attitude, behaviors, and basic understanding of the safety technologies present in their vehicles.

The research focused on seven safety technologies: adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, and rear-cross traffic alert, McDonald said.

“More and more vehicles are being sold with advanced vehicle technologies,”Cher Carney, senior research associate at the driving simulator, said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Understanding how drivers are using them or misusing them is extremely important.”

The systems have the ability to increase mobility and reduce crashes, but drivers must take the time to understand the features properly, Carney said. Drivers need to know when and where to use the features, as well as avoid becoming too reliant on the technologies, in order to realize the safety benefits, she said.

The study showed that 80 percent of drivers don’t realize that blind-spot monitors don’t detect vehicles passing at high speeds, cyclists, or pedestrians, McDonald said. Some drivers also don’t realize that automatic emergency braking may not brake in all situations, she said.

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UI Associate Professor Daniel McGehee, the director of the driving simulator, said the overall project was to understand what drivers know about their vehicles, specifically the new technologies that have been developed.

In general, the study saw that drivers liked the safety systems and would recommend them to others, McDonald said. Sixty-one percent of the drivers surveyed said that they felt safer with the technology in their vehicles, she said.

Drivers have access to education about their vehicles’ safety features through the manufacturer, dealership, and the owners’ manual, McDonald said. They can do research and ask questions about their vehicles through online resources such as, a website created by the driving simulator.

“ is a national education campaign,” McGehee said. “There have been 6.5 billion media impressions through the website, making it one of the largest public-services campaigns.”

They hope the findings of the study stress the importance of educating drivers about the limitations of the safety systems and how to use them properly, Carney said. The results of the study also showed that, when training for how to use the systems is available, they are likely to take it, she said.

“These technologies have tremendous benefits to improve safety on roadways; they just need to be understood,” McDonald said.

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