Have any of your fleet drivers asked you if they could disable their lane departure warning or blind spot monitoring because they found the technology more annoying than helpful? You’re not alone.
While the features found in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) have the potential to reduce crashes, there is increasing evidence that these technologies are misunderstood or not used as intended.
An Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) study found that drivers don't always understand important information communicated by system displays. Findings from the J.D. Power 2019 U.S. Tech Experience Index Study assert that ADAS are so annoying that many drivers disable them.
Kevin Myose, fleet manager for San Joaquin County in Calif., experienced this firsthand after the county bought some 2019 Toyota Camrys installed with ADAS features for fleet uses, including law enforcement.
“The first thing the investigators did was figure out how to turn it off,” says Myose. “They are annoyed with the way the car applies the brakes when backing out next to parked cars, when it grabs the wheel during a lane change without signaling, and the constant nagging beeps from the proximity sensor warnings.”
Going one step further, a 2018 study from AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety provided suggestive evidence that drivers using these technologies engaged in unsafe behaviors such as feeling comfortable engaging in other activities while driving with adaptive cruise control, relying on blind spot monitoring to the point of changing lanes without visually checking their blind spots, and at least sometimes backing up without looking over their shoulder with a rear cross traffic alert system.
As these technologies advance into levels of autonomous driving — such as the Level 2 systems found in Tesla, Audi, and Cadillac models, among others — the danger is that drivers become over reliant or complacent with them, ironically escalating risk of a crash.
Have you seen the video of the guy asleep on the highway at the wheel of his Tesla? There are a few of them.
“Current levels of automation could potentially improve safety,” writes David Harkey, IIHS president. "However, unless drivers have a certain amount of knowledge and comprehension, these new features also have the potential to create new risks.”
As advanced safety tech migrates from luxury marques to mainstream vehicles and becomes standard on popular trim levels, fleet managers have new challenges to educate their drivers on proper operation.
“Fleets should train drivers on in-vehicle safety technology so they understand what the warnings mean and what to do when one comes on,” says Rich Raid, director, product management at fleet management company ARI.
Fleet managers should understand which of the safety technologies their drivers deem more annoying than helpful.
Myose of San Joaquin County says some drivers have complained that the Camry’s system will suddenly apply the brakes when backing up because the system saw something the driver didn’t think was a hazard. “It’s really irritating and scary when you don't expect it,” he says.
“While these features can be helpful when something is really there, it happens enough when there is nothing,” Myose says. “The driver will become annoyed and ignore the warnings, which kind of kills the safety aspect and discourages good behavior adoption.”
“I suggest that fleets be mindful of which specific safety technology they have a vested interest in and why,” says Emily Candib, director products & services, Merchants Fleet. “Fleets should understand the notification thresholds and check in with drivers for feedback to make modifications or review periodically as necessary.”
“When drivers are involved in the process,” Candib continues, “they will gain an understanding of company objectives and be more willing to comply and provide suggestions rather than dismantle or disable the technology.”
Another recent IIHS survey analyzed the use of current crash avoidance technologies. It found that drivers tend to disable lane departure prevention systems the most, though at varying rates depending on automaker and age of the technology.
Lane departure systems that intervene sooner than later with slight nudges and gentle braking tend to be left intact, while others tend to be turned off at greater rates, the study found.
A Fleet-Specific Study
A study by SmartDrive Systems, a driver safety and transportation intelligence company, examined behaviors of commercial drivers in relation to onboard monitoring systems and alerts. SmartDrive conducted the two-year study for the Department of Transportation in conjunction with Virginia Tech and University of Washington's Transportation Research Group.
One finding of the study, published in November 2016, corroborated other research that drivers started to tune out lane departure alerts if they went off too frequently or if they didn’t adequately identify a lane departure, says Jason Palmer, COO of SmartDrive.
“We attributed that to drivers becoming accustomed to the lights or sounds over that initial period, and then reverting back to their previous baseline behaviors,” he says.
Systems in vehicles that were four or five years old had higher rates of false positives. “The newer systems now incorporate radar,” Palmer says. “They’ve gotten much better, and the false positive rate has gone down.”
However, the study found that forward collision warnings produced much fewer false positives, according to Palmer, even in the old systems. In some instances, a spike in alerts could mean the system isn’t calibrating properly and needs to be serviced.
The SmartDrive study took the research one step further in an important aspect for fleet safety management — the effectiveness of driver coaching.
Palmer says that once driver feedback was introduced, there was an initial improvement in critical events. However, if coaching stopped, critical events increased again after only two to three weeks.
“If the coaching and driver feedback were done sporadically or infrequently, they weren't necessarily very effective at all,” he says.
Further, driver feedback isn’t successful with a one-size-fits-all approach. “We determined that different types of feedback require different levels of urgency,” Palmer says. “Some drivers take that feedback and make adjustments and maintain that over time, while others will start to tune that out. For them, you may need to reinforce with other programs.”
The SmartDrive study compared vehicles with active braking against those without it. For those with active braking, the data revealed an increase in active braking alerts — the conclusion being that the drivers were starting to rely on the system to slow them down.
As proactive safety corrections such as active braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist become more widespread, fleet managers need to monitor warning messages. “An increase in messages would be a leading indicator that drivers are not engaged and not paying as much attention as they should be,” Palmer says.
A Holistic Approach
Monitoring ADAS messages helps fleet managers understand when ADAS is having to intervene to avoid risky situations. While valuable, this only covers a fraction of the behaviors that can be harvested from a vehicle, including telematics data, that should be recorded, collated, and analyzed.
“When fleets are able to monitor their vehicles’ driver-initiated behavior, they can utilize the data to tell a powerful story about the operation of their fleet,” Candib says. “In addition to alerting drivers of a lane departure, they can see when and where those events occurred and for how long.”
“The function of ADAS is to hopefully give the driver enough of a stimulus to have them take corrective action or have the car take corrective action to avoid an accident, but a lot of times it may be too late,” says Rob Minton, associate vice president for Geotab, a telematics service provider.
Another critical element is contextual data such as weather, road, and traffic conditions, which fleets are beginning to connect with driver and vehicle behaviors.
“If you can identify what occurs in that time period before an accident happens and educate drivers to try to avoid these behaviors altogether,” Minton says, “then you can reduce accident rates fairly dramatically.”
In addition to analyzing data, a holistic approach to safety includes instilling a top-down safety culture and implementing behavioral markers such as driver scorecards. “If you're going to get serious about the safety of your drivers and how you operate your fleet, you need to do a combination of things,” Minton says.
As advanced safety technologies become ubiquitous, fleets will need to incorporate them into their training and policies.
In fleet policies, specific guidelines for vehicle operation should address ADAS and could be included in pre- and post-trip inspections. “This makes it clear to the driver what the expectations are for use of a company vehicle and the consequences if the policy is not adhered to,” Candib says.
The Next Frontier
The proactive functions of ADAS are evolving into Level 2 autonomy, in which the vehicle can steer, accelerate, and brake by itself in certain circumstances. Yet systems that can perform some driving tasks still require drivers to be ready to take over the vehicle at any moment, which become critical if the driver is sleepy or impaired.
“As Level 2 systems become more widespread, then monitoring a driver’s readiness becomes much more critical,” Palmer says. “And it's certainly more concerning when we’re talking not about Tesla cars but large trucks.”
While SmartDrive is developing computer vision and other algorithms to assess driver readiness, Palmer says automakers will be tasked with putting in place more sophisticated driver readiness monitoring systems as automation advances.
These awareness systems will feature a combination of camera and infrared sensors. They could also use tactical sensors to demonstrate awareness, such as the requirement for Tesla drivers to touch the steering wheel and react every two minutes to keep Autopilot engaged.
For truck fleets, pre-trip inspections could include checkboxes for driver readiness and specific guidelines for vehicle operation outlined in their policy.
As autonomy advances, drivers will have fewer tasks behind the wheel. Yet as long as a vehicle requires driver intervention, “It's all about training,” Palmer says. “We're going to have to think about how we adapt driver training to accommodate these new systems.”