Disengagement from driving when using automation during a 4-week field trial

Reagan, Ian J. / Teoh, Eric R. / Cicchino, Jessica B. / Gershon, Pnina / Reimer, Bryan / Mehler, Bruce / Seppelt, Bobbie D.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
July 2021

Introduction: A small body of research on the real-world use of commercially available partial driving automation suggests that drivers may struggle with or otherwise lapse in adequately monitoring the system and highway environment, and little is known about key issues such as how behavior associated with system use changes over time. The current study assessed how driver disengagement, defined as visual-manual interaction with electronics or removal of hands from the wheel, differed as drivers became more accustomed to partial automation over a 4-week trial.
Methods: Ten volunteers drove a Volvo S90 with adaptive cruise control (ACC), which automates speed and headway, and Pilot Assist, which combines ACC and continuous lane centering. Instrumentation captured automation use, secondary task activity, hands-on-wheel status, vehicle speed, and GPS location during all trips.
Results: The longer drivers used the Pilot Assist partial automation system, the more likely they were to become disengaged, with a significant increase in the odds of participants taking both hands off the steering wheel or manipulating a cell phone relative to manual control. Results associated with use of ACC found comparable or lower levels of disengagement compared with manual driving as the study progressed.
Discussion: This study highlights concerns about vehicle control and the degree to which drivers remain actively in the loop when using automation. Calls for implementing more robust driver monitoring with partial automation appear warranted — particularly those that track head or eye position.