Driving on curves using automated systems can pose safety challenges

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Advanced driver assistance technologies such as adaptive cruise control and more sophisticated partial automation systems are as much as 75% less likely to be active in sharp curves than on straight segments, limiting their potential safety benefits.

That’s the main result of a new study released earlier this month by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit funded by the insurance industry that looked at how driving on curves in the road can limit vehicle automation.

“We know that advanced driver assistance features can help prevent crashes, but of course they can only do so if drivers use them,” said Wen Hu, senior research transportation engineer at the Insurance Institute and lead author of the paper, in a statement. “This study suggests that these technologies will only be able to reach their full potential if motorists can trust them to handle curves.”

Problems arise because adaptive cruise control (ACC) and more advanced partial automation, which combine ACC with lane centering, are often disabled on some of the sharper curves found on restricted-access roads, the researchers said, either because drivers turn off the features, or they deactivate automatically.

The report noted that the ACC acts as a conventional cruise control, but automatically lowers the vehicle to maintain a preselected following distance from the vehicle in front, “so that the driver does not have to repeatedly brake and reset the system.” And lane centering, it said, provides automatic steering assistance designed to ensure the vehicle stays in the middle of the lane.

For the study, the researchers examined data collected from two 2016 Land Rover Range Rover Evoques equipped with ACC and two 2017 Volvo S90 vehicles equipped with both ACC and Volvo’s Pilot Assist partial automation system that combines ACC and track centering.

The vehicles were driven by 39 drivers over a period of four weeks.

The results of the analysis showed that both ACC and Pilot Assist were less likely to be active as curves became sharper. Evoque drivers were 72% less likely to use the ACC in the sharpest curve category than on straight stretches of road; The S90 drivers were 75% less likely to use Pilot Assist and 66% less likely to use ACC in the sharpest curves.

The study did not address whether the drivers turned off the systems or whether they disabled automatically. Lane centering can be automatically suspended when the driver manipulates the steering wheel or uses the turn signal, or when system sensors cannot detect the lines painted on the road, and ACC is disabled when the driver activates the brakes, the report explained.

“The fact that Pilot Assist was often inactive on the sharpest curves is an important limitation, as the kind of crashes that track centering can help prevent are more likely to occur on curves than on straight roads,” Hu added.

Click here to learn more about the survey.

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