Bears in our midst: familiarity with Level 2 driving automation and situational awareness of on-road events

Mueller, Alexandra S. / Cicchino, Jessica B. / Benedick, Amy / De Leonardis, Doreen / Huey, Rick
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
March 2021

This study presents a novel paradigm to evaluate driver situational awareness when using Level 2 (L2) driving automation. An oversized pink teddy bear was mounted to the back of a study vehicle that overtook participants three times while they drove another study vehicle, a 2019 Mercedes-Benz C300 equipped with a L2 system, for approximately 1 hour. The L2 system was turned on or off for the drive, depending on the assigned condition, and participants varied in their familiarity with L2 systems. Post-drive surveys measured situational awareness about the bear and road by asking participants to recall the bear and the number of bear presentations as well as landmarks along the route. Cameras recorded participant eye glance behavior. Results show that the driving automation support only gave participants familiar with L2 systems an advantage for greater situational awareness of the bear. Unfamiliar participants were at a disadvantage when assisted by the L2 system, having poorer bear situational awareness compared with unfamiliar participants who drove with the system off. Better bear situational awareness corresponded with better landmark recall and wider on-road gaze dispersion. Our findings support the effectiveness of this paradigm to measure a driver’s situational awareness of the road objectively and unobtrusively when using a L2 system under real-world conditions.