Car manufacturers have begun widespread introduction of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as automated cruise control (ACC), braking assistance, lane change assistance etc. into newer model year cars. These systems aim to partially or fully automate some driving tasks to make driving a less fatiguing and safer task. Yet, the safety of these systems in real world driving conditions is still not well understood, as numerous variables impact how these systems function. One factor that researchers have not explored in depth is driver understanding and knowledge of ADAS. How well drivers understand the limitations and operational parameters of the ADAS in their vehicle could have a huge effect on the safe operation of ADAS.
To better understand how driver’s understanding and knowledge or "mental model" of ADAS affects the safety of these systems, researchers from the University of Iowa and the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety recruited eighty drivers (ages 25-65) of varying levels of driving experience. Then the research team assessed the strength of each driver’s mental model of ADAS using a questionnaire and by observing each driver in a driving simulator. After, the research team gave each participant a brief overview of the ADAS in the simulated car and briefly trained each participant on the operation of the simulation. Finally, participants drove through a series six of simulated environments. In each of these environments conditions were such that the ADAS was expected to fail and drivers would have to take manual control to avoid a collision. The research team monitored performance, reaction time, and more during each of the scenarios.
Drivers with stronger mental models (i.e. understanding) of ADAS performed significantly better compared to drivers with weaker mental models.
Drivers with stronger mental models were faster to react to changing conditions, faster to deactivate the ADAS, and maintained better gap distances compared to drivers with weaker mental models.
This difference in performance was likely due to differences in understanding how the ADAS might function under challenging road conditions and awareness of ADAS limitations. Drivers should potentially be provided more training or guidance on how their vehicle’s ADAS functions and what its limitations, are to improve safety of ADAS. Although, who should provide this training is an open question.
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