IIHS Study Finds Many Drivers Are Confused About Capabilities Of Semi-Autonomous Systems

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Misconceptions about Tesla’s Autopilot feature were found to be especially common


June 21, 2019


Many consumers are confused about the capabilities of driver-assistance systems, such as Tesla’s Autopilot, according to a study released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The organization surveyed 2,000 drivers about the following technologies:

  • Autopilot (Tesla)

  • Traffic Jam Assist (Audi and Acura)

  • Super Cruise (Cadillac)

  • Driving Assistant Plus (BMW)

  • ProPilot Assist (Nissan)

“The name ‘Autopilot’ was associated with the highest likelihood that drivers believed a behavior was safe while in operation, for every behavior measured, compared with other system names,” the IIHS wrote. “Many of these differences were statistically significant.”

Autopilot misconceptions prevalent

Almost half of participants in the survey (48 percent) believed it would be safe to take their hands off the wheel in a Tesla. Asked about ProPilot Assist, only 33 percent of respondents thought that would be a safe move.

“Autopilot also had substantially greater proportions of people who thought it would be safe to look at scenery, read a book, talk on a cell phone or text,” IIHS noted. “Six percent thought it would be OK to take a nap while using Autopilot, compared with 3 percent for the other systems.”

Tesla’s Autopilot feature has been a factor in several incidents. Last May, the Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to the FTC requesting that the agency investigate how Tesla has marketed the feature.

The groups called Tesla’s use of the name Autopilot “deceptive and misleading” and argued that advertising the enhanced cruise-control system under the name Autopilot could make consumers think the feature makes a Tesla vehicle self-driving.

“Tesla is the only automaker to market its Level 2 vehicles as ‘self-driving,’ and the name of its driver assistance suite of features, Autopilot, connotes full autonomy,” the letter said.

Tesla responds

Responding to the recent IIHS survey, Tesla pointed out that the survey wasn’t of Tesla owners and could therefore provide an inaccurate estimate of how many Tesla drivers are confused about what Autopilot can and can’t do.  

“This survey is not representative of the perceptions of Tesla owners or people who have experience using Autopilot, and it would be inaccurate to suggest as much,” Tesla said in a statement. “If IIHS is opposed to the name ‘Autopilot,’ presumably they are equally opposed to the name ‘Automobile.’”

The company added that it provides owners with “clear guidance on how to properly use Autopilot, as well as in-car instructions before they use the system and while the feature is in use.”


Sarah D. Young has been a columnist for a blog aimed at Millennials and has also worked in early childhood education and has been a reading tutor to at-risk youth.  Read Full Bio→

Consumer Watchdog
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