Assistance systems are not autopilots

26 Oct 2023

Motorists are still responsible

If you want to exploit the safety potential of your vehicle to the full, you need to know how to use the installed driver assistance systems correctly and where their limits lie.
More and more modern cars have emergency braking assistance, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and other systems on board. “These are all systems that make driving more comfortable and, above all, safer – as long as drivers know how to use them,” says Luigi Ancona, accident researcher at DEKRA. However, it is important to be aware of the limitations of the technology in question. Even an active lane departure warning system cannot keep a vehicle on the road if the bend is negotiated at excessive speed or the road surface is slippery.

Even the best system in the world cannot counter the laws of physics

Even an emergency brake assist continues to require attention, active thinking and quick reactions on the part of the motorist. In dangerous situations they still need to actively and resolutely brake just as before, so to reduce speed rapidly and avoid a collision. “For example, if a driver fails to react to an imminent collision, the system will first issue a warning, then apply gentle braking, and only apply a hard stop at the last minute if the driver fails to react to the warning,” explains the accident expert. This means that the vehicle comes to a stop much later than if the driver had recognized the danger in time and reduced speed. He therefore recommends a proactive driving style to avoid a situation where hard braking is required, especially as hard braking is always dangerous for traffic behind.
“The systems are designed to assist the driver in dangerous situations, such as when the driver is inattentive, has made a mistake, is distracted or tired,” says Ancona. However, drivers must be aware that the person behind the wheel is still responsible and cannot blindly trust the technology. "These are assistance systems, not autopilots". The systems available are already very good, but they are not perfect in all conditions, for example when sensors or cameras are dirty or covered in snow.

Interplay between the driver and the systems

“What is important for safe driving is the fine interplay between the driver and the systems installed in the vehicle,” emphasizes the accident researcher. It is important to know how the electronic life savers work and that the driver must remain alert to be able to intervene at any time.
“If you want to drive safely, you also need to know which systems are installed in the vehicle, whether a system is active, how to detect this and how to activate and deactivate the systems,” adds Thomas Riedel, the head of the driving license center at DEKRA. This has already been a standard part of the driving test since mid-2022. Driving license candidates will have to prove that they can operate the installed assistance systems without assistance. Experienced drivers would do well to be equipped with this knowledge when they get behind the wheel of a car equipped with assistance systems. “Anyone who uses a variety of vehicles, whether for private or professional purposes, needs to be aware that the systems are different from one manufacturer to the next. It is not just the audible signals, symbols in the cockpit and different names for systems with comparable functions that may differ, but also the functions and limitations of the systems themselves.”