Driver-assist systems with partial automation can certainly help prevent collisions, but they aren’t quite ready for primetime. A recent study analyzed over 37,000 vehicle collisions and found humans are less likely to crash on turns or in low-light situations versus automated tech. And the numbers aren’t even close.

The study, published recently by Nature Communications, found that vehicles using automated systems had five times as many crashes during sunrise or sunset. In corners, the ratio was twice as many compared to human-driven vehicles. Approximately 35,000 crashes involving human drivers and 2,100 with automated systems active serve as the foundation for the data.

With regard to low-light situations, the study highlights limitations with cameras and sensors and the inability to adapt to conditions. For example, early-morning or late-day shadows could be misinterpreted as objects. Fluctuating light can also be problematic, wreaking havoc with algorithms and causing confusion within the system. On the other hand, objects in shadows may not be detected at all. This is supported by crash tests that consistently show vehicles braking late or failing to stop at all for simulated pedestrians or animals.

As for turns, situational awareness is mentioned as a likely trouble spot for current automated systems. Sensors and cameras may not detect all obstacles in a location as dynamic as an intersection, but it goes beyond even that. The study points out that current systems generally “see” the area relatively close to a vehicle. Whereas a human might see a heavy fog bank a half-mile away and take precautionary action, a car under autonomous control would just keep on going.

There’s evidence to back this up. Examining actions taken before a collision, most vehicles under autonomous control were driving straight and at constant speed before emergency maneuvers were implemented. Cars driven by humans showed more cases of slowing down and changing lanes before impact.

The study takes into account a plethora of variables to arrive at these conclusions, but the takeaway is clear. Driver-assist systems as they stand now are just that—assists. Automation works well in a straight line, but considerably more data must be gathered and studied before true hands-off/eyes-off Level 4 driving can become a reality.

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Last Update: June 24, 2024