When Drivers Use Automated Systems, They Don't Give Up Control

by Adam Felts

AgeLab Research Scientist Pnina Gershon has published a paper in Accident Analysis and Preventionon drivers’ interactions with vehicle automation systems. The paper’s results are also covered in an article in Automotive News, from which excerpts are reproduced below. The paper was co-authored with Sean Seaman, Research Scientists at Touchstone Evaluations, AgeLab Research Associate Bruce Mehler, AgeLab Research Scientist Bryan Reimer, and AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin.

The study’s findings include the observation that drivers who use General Motors’ “Super Cruise” driver-assist system remained active participants in operating the vehicle even while the system was engaged:

“Far from passive monitoring of the system as it conducted the driving task or intervening in unusual scenarios, humans retook control to perform common maneuvers the system cannot yet execute on its own, such as lane changes, more frequently than the study's engineers expected …

In the real world, drivers are perhaps pioneering a more fluid approach to utilizing Super Cruise than researchers or engineers initially imagined.”

The study categorized the occasions at which drivers re-assumed control of the vehicle as “strategic,” “maneuver,” and “control.” “Strategic” may refer to instances in which a human takes active control of the car for an extended period, such as to prepare for a highway exit. “Maneuvers” might be passing a vehicle to maintain a set speed. “Control” would account for adjusting in response to other drivers.

On the study’s findings, Dr. Gershon commented in the Automotive News article, "There should be an increased focus on standardizing the acceptable operation and interactions with these systems," Gershon said. "Leveraging what we know about how and why drivers are taking over, we can focus on interactions that make it easier to shift between automation levels, if that's the goal."

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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