Auto Tech

Driver-assistance systems have too many different names, AAA study says

AAA says the various names are confusing to drivers and car shoppers.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

What does "Distronic Plus with Steering Assist" do in your car? What about "Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go" or "Collision Warning with Brake Support?" Unless you study carmaker press releases or read your vehicle's owners manual cover to cover, it's easy to get confused by all the different names for advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS).

Volvo City Safety menu

The terms used for driver-aid systems, like in this Volvo, can vary between manufacturers.

Jake Holmes/Roadshow

That's the crux of a new study from AAA, which says that automakers use too many differing names for these ADAS, or active-safety, technologies. In a survey of 34 car brands sold in the US, AAA's team found that there are 40 different brand names used to describe automatic emergency braking, 20 different names for adaptive cruise control and 19 terms of lane-keeping assistance -- to say nothing of other features like automatic high beams (18 names) or rear cross-traffic warnings (15 terms).

"The naming of the systems causes confusions for even our engineers," Greg Brannon, AAA Director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations, told Roadshow in a phone interview. "How in the world do we tell [a shopper] what to look for in a car? It's very confusing."

On top of that, AAA says that consumers can easily be confused when automakers bundle multiple safety technologies into packages: what's included in AcuraWatch versus Honda Sensing, for instance? Even for Roadshow editors, who follow this stuff daily, it can be difficult to keep track of which systems do what.

2019 Honda Civic Hatchback

Drivers need to know what a system does in order to use it safely.

Honda

Instead, AAA has come up with a standardized list of names for ADAS features that it hopes automakers will adopt. AAA says carmakers could still use their own brand names, but encourages them to use the standardized terms in advertising, owners' manuals and other locations "so consumers can more clearly understand what technology is present on the vehicle."

"Our list of proposed terminology is probably not perfect, but we hope it serves as a starting point to work from," Brannon said, adding that AAA plans to share the list with automakers, regulators and policymakers. "We think it's important to have some clear naming and consistency."

The proposed technology names include Adaptive Cruise Control; Dynamic Driving Assistance for features that control steering as well as acceleration and braking; Semi-Automated Parking Assistance for features that require the driver to steer and brake; and Fully-Automated Parking Assistance for features that can brake/accelerate/shift without human intervention. The list also distinguishes between Forward Automatic Emergency Braking and Reverse Automatic Emergency Braking, to help buyers understand exactly how those pre-collision systems work. (You can see the full list of proposed names here.)

mercedes-adas-hero

More automakers are not only offering ADAS as options, but including the tech as standard.

Mercedes-Benz

"Let's say a consumer is In one vehicle that they're familiar with that has some functionality related to automated braking, then they jump in a different car," Brannon said. "It's really left for the consumer to figure out what they're actually buying."

The names of ADAS features becomes even more important as drivers come to rely more and more on these systems; if somebody doesn't know what a feature is supposed to do, how can they safely use it when driving? In November, an AAA survey revealed that drivers generally overestimated the capabilities of cars. About 40 percent of respondents said they thought assist features like Autopilot, ProPilot and Pilot Assist had "the ability to drive the car by itself" -- which is incorrect. That, AAA says, shows that more education is essential.

It'll only continue to become more important as automakers make ADAS features standard on more vehicles. Today, AAA says it found that automatic emergency braking is standard on 30.6 percent of new car models, and most automakers have pledged to make it standard on all cars by 2022. Studies also have proven that driver-assistance tech really is making a difference in the real world. An IIHS study of General Motors cars, for instance, found models equipped with automatic braking experienced 17 percent fewer crashes than vehicles without the tech.

"They [ADAS] do help, they do reduce accidents and injuries and claim severity," Brannon said. "Over 90 percent of new vehicle models available in 2018 had at least one ADAS feature available."

To help with the issue, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also issued its own guide to driver-assist features. The so-called "pocket guide" explains what various features can and cannot do for drivers and is intended to help car shoppers understand the features they're looking at.