Gov't, car industry too focused on self-driving cars, not enough on safety of existing automated systems: Dutch Safety Board

Automation in road traffic
Automation in road trafficDutch Safety BoardDutch Safety Board

Governments, the car industry and experts are so focused on the future of self-driving cars that little to no attention is paid to already existing advanced driver assistance systems. As a result, cars are allowed on the road with such systems that are not yet fully developed, and drivers often don't know what these systems can and cannot do, leading to risky situations on the road, the Dutch Safety Board concluded in its two-year-long study into driver assistance systems titled Who is in control? Road safety and automation in road traffic.

Around half of new cars are equipped with driver assistance systems that automatically take over tasks like steering, braking and accelerating, the Safety Board said. This changes the role of the drive, who is expected to monitor the process and intervene when necessary. According to the Safety Board, this requires concentration while automation makes drivers less alert. "This makes driving easier and more difficult at the same time and it is not always clear who is in control: the person or the car?"

According to the Safety Board, drivers expect to be able to rely on these systems, but the responsibility is thrown back on the driver if something goes wrong. Too little attention is paid to the operation and limitations of driver assistance systems when a new car is delivered to the customer, and customers are often not informed about software updates. "The result of this is a lack of knowledge among drivers about these systems', the Safety Board said.

Driver assistance systems still form a "black box" in many levels from manufacturing to regulation, the Safety Board said. New cars are allowed on public roads without the government having proper supervision on the operation of new systems in different circumstances. "This makes it unclear whether the system actually does what it should do." There is also a lack of proper monitoring and evaluation of these systems, making it impossible to predict their effect on road safety. The police also often cannot read data from such systems after an accident, and they sometimes don't even know which cars have such systems installed, the Safety Board said.

The Dutch Safety Board believes that driver assistance systems can help achieve the government's goal of reducing road accident victims to zero by 2050, but only if more attention is paid to them. 

The design and introduction of driver assistance systems need to be adjusted, the Safety Board said. The car industry should shift towards "socially responsible innovation" and demonstratively show how their innovations improve road safety. Manufacturers should also better inform their customers about what a car with driving assistance systems can and cannot do. 

More attention should be paid to accidents involving cars with driving assistance systems, so that lessons can be learned from them, the Safety Board said. 

The Safety Board also recommends that vehicle legislation be amended at a European level to better reflect the current generation of driver assistance systems.