Someday, vehicles will drive themselves. However, getting there will take a long time and it’s going to be messy. Not only will autonomous vehicles occupy roadways with non-autonomous vehicles, but those driven by humans will also have increased levels of autonomous capabilities that still require regular driver intervention.
With vehicles taking over human tasks, are we heading into a new era of driver complacency on the road? It’s already started. If you’ve seen the video of the guy asleep while at the wheel of his Tesla, you know what I mean.
What started with the vehicle beeping at you to get back in your lane has evolved into proactive systems that nudge the vehicle back into the lane and brake for you. Those systems are now being combined with adaptive cruise control to offer Level 2 autonomous functionality — Tesla’s Autopilot leading this adoption.
No doubt, these advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are mitigating accidents and saving lives. But as they become more sophisticated and widespread, fleet operators will need to adjust driver education, training, and policies to maximize their effectiveness.
First, it’s incumbent on fleet managers to know ADAS functionality before putting them in their drivers’ hands. The fact that manufacturer’s systems vary widely doesn’t make this task any easier.
Some functions, such as adaptive cruise control, may serve driver comfort more than safety. Other systems are designed to only be used in certain road circumstances (i.e. highway use, flowing traffic) and avoided in others (heavy traffic, at intersections).
A J.D. Power study reveals that drivers are turning off technologies such as lane departure alerts because they produce too many false positives or find them annoying. Meanwhile, some manufacturers’ systems experiencing a higher disable rate than others, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
If you manage a fleet, do you know if or how many of your drivers have turned off any of these safety functions? Have you considered if a manually disabled system would result in increased liability exposure in the event of a crash? Should prohibiting tampering with a system be written into the fleet safety policy?
With names such as Autopilot, Traffic Jam Assist, Super Cruise, Driving Assistant Plus, and ProPilot Assist, Level 2 systems on the market today are convoluted and causing confusion, according to IIHS.
Tesla’s Autopilot feature seemed to foster the most complacency. By wide margins, drivers thought they could perform maneuvers safely such as “hands off the steering wheel,” “Talking on cellphone/texting,” “watching a video,” and even “taking a nap” when using Tesla’s system.
Like any initiative, drivers will take a greater stake in compliance with company objectives if they’re involved in the process.
Gaining driver feedback to understand their competencies with these systems will help fleet managers maximize their functionality. This is a time-consuming process — perhaps a driver survey will yield insights that can be addressed individually as needed.
As Level 2 systems become ubiquitous, an increasingly important discipline will be to monitor drivers’ fitness to drive. Measuring driver fatigue or illness will begin before the vehicle is started, similar to the concept of the breathalyzer ignition interlock device to measure blood alcohol levels.
In-cab driver monitoring using computer vision and algorithms to analyze sleep behaviors are becoming more widespread and increasingly sophisticated. On-the-road interventions, either automatically or by humans (“Bob, wake up!”), will grow.
Another increasingly critical area of focus is analytics. (As if another action item was needed to interpret the firehose of data coming out of our vehicles.) Telematics data such as hard cornering combined with ADAS events such as lane departures can tell powerful stories on driver safety.
Ironically, the tenets of traditional driver safety education and coaching — delivered consistently — will take on greater importance as ADAS permeates fleets.
It’s time for fleet operators to formulate an action plan on how to manage the increasing amount of safety tech. That video of the guy asleep at the wheel of his Tesla? There’s more than one, and we haven’t seen the last of them.
Level 2 autonomy is upon us. Complacency is not an option.