It’s understood from research and anecdotal evidence that cutting-edge safety systems in new vehicles work as intended. That is, the safety systems that partially automate limited aspects of driving do what they’re supposed to do: help to keep you out of motor vehicle crashes.
Of course, the systems can only help to keep you out of motor vehicle crashes while they’re engaged. If you or your vehicle disengages a partially autonomous system, that system can’t help you drive.
One of the partial automation systems currently available on new vehicles is adaptive cruise control (ACC). Cadillac brags that its Super Cruise feature allows for “hands-free driving” on certain U.S. highways that its engineers deem suitable for safe use. Once engaged, it keeps your vehicle at a chosen speed (Super Cruise brakes and accelerates as needed) and at a distance from the vehicle ahead that the driver chooses.
Super Cruise can also take care of safely changing lanes – it checks traffic for you and then safely moves your car into the next lane. It handles steering, braking and acceleration for the driver.
But Super Cruise can only do those things if it’s activated.
Disengaged at crucial moment
According to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), ACC systems are often disengaged when vehicles are going through sharp curves – the very type of driving challenge in which they could help to keep vehicles and passengers safe.
Unfortunately, IIHS researchers did not determine if ACC was turned off by the driver or by the vehicle.
Falling short of potential
The lead author of the study, IIHS Senior Research Transportation Engineer Wen Hu, said “this study suggests that these technologies will only be able to reach their full potential if drivers can trust them to handle curves.”
An ACC system disengages whenever the driver uses the brakes. In ACC systems with lane-keeping assistance, the system disengages whenever the driver uses the turn signal or manipulates the steering wheel.