AAA On Self-Driving Cars: Don’t Buy The Hype


Hands off driving
Credit: AAA.
We’re big proponents of driver assist technology at the Car Pro. Features like Forward Collision Warning and Automatic Emergency Braking can help prevent accidents and save lives, both for passenger cars and, as we reported last week, even big rigs. (Car Pro Show host Jerry Reynolds outlines some of his must-have driver assist safety features here.) But we also know driver assistance features come with limitations and it’s important to know what those limitations are.

That’s the message the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety wants to send with its new study. It found that motorists tend to overlook safety limitations when the branding and marketing used to sell it suggest an “automated” driving experience. Its researchers are telling drivers “don’t buy the hype” around the marketing of these systems. It’s also asking automakers to help set realistic expectations of their capability.

AAA Research

New AAA research found that drivers expect more from active driving assistance systems, which combine vehicle acceleration with braking and steering, than they can deliver. Researchers found consumer information that stresses convenience and capabilities while minimizing limitations can inflate expectations regarding what the system can do and the situations that it can handle. AAA warns that a false sense of system capabilities created by marketing campaigns can lead to dangerous scenarios on the road.

“Based on data collected from our research, subtle differences in tone and emphasis significantly influenced people’s understanding of the technology and their expectations of its capability,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “These systems assist the driver and take some of the stress out of driving, but they don’t eliminate the need for drivers to pay attention.”

What’s In a Name

In the new AAA Foundation study, 90 research participants received a brief overview of an active driving assistance system with a realistic but fake name. Before driving the same vehicle, half of the participants were told their system was called “AutonoDrive” and were given an upbeat training that emphasized the system’s capabilities and driver convenience. The other half of the participants were told their system was named “DriveAssist,” and their training placed greater emphasis on the system’s limitations and driver responsibility.

The study found that drivers who used AutonoDrive came away with greater confidence — and in some cases, overconfidence — in the system. After completing the training and driving the test vehicle, 42% of the participants using AutonoDrive, said its name made the system sound more capable than it is, while only 11% of DriveAssist users felt the same. Also, compared to those who learned about DriveAssist, participants trained on AutonoDrive were more likely to believe erroneously that the system would behave as outlined below.

Sample Perception Differences

AutonoDrive DriveAssist
The system would make them feel more comfortable eating while driving 65% 27%
The system would make them feel more comfortable using a handheld cell phone 45% 13%
The system can take action to avoid a collision when a vehicle directly to the side begins steering into it to change lanes 42% 4%
The system can automatically reduce speed on a tight curve without the driver doing anything 56% 27%


In a previous survey, 40 percent of Americans told AAA they expect active driving assistance systems, with names like Autopilot and ProPILOT, to have the ability to drive the car by itself.

AAA Recommendations

To help guide consumers, AAA says it recommends that automakers provide consumers information that is not only technically accurate but also balanced in terms of setting expectations that match what consumers will ultimately experience on the road. For consumers, there must be an emphasis on driver engagement and understanding the limitations of these technologies. AAA also says car dealers have a responsibility to educate car buyers on these technologies, but not to oversell a vehicle’s bells and whistles.

“Automakers are in the business of selling vehicles. Understandably, they will emphasize convenience and system capabilities in their marketing campaigns, but,their marketing campaigns, materials and consumer information should not mislead motorists,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “Words matter. We can do better by taking care to be more realistic in setting expectations for consumers such that the sale of a new vehicle does not come at the expense of safety.”

  • Purpose – Learn the purpose of active driving technology by reading the vehicle’s owner’s manual and visiting the manufacturer’s website.
  • Limitations – Understand what the technology cannot do; do not make any assumptions about automation. An active driving system should not be confused with a self-driving one.
  • Allow Time For Testing – Allow time for safe on-road testing, so drivers know exactly how this technology works in real driving situations.
  • Never Rely On It – Do not rely on this technology; instead, act as if the vehicle does not have it with the driver always prepared to retake control if needed.

Read the AAA Report here.
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