Steering into the Future: The Rise of Hands-Free Driving and the Safety Debate

 

Do you count yourself among the bold people who have put their toes in the hands-free driving assistance waters? You might have even raised both hands in a full-on bet. But let me give you a friendly reminder: notwithstanding how clever your car is, your eyes should always be locked on the road in front of you!

Whether you like them or not, hands-free driving technology is becoming more and more common on the road. Large firms in the automobile sector are providing hands-free driving as an option or a subscription, including GM’s Super Cruise, Ford’s BlueCruise, and Nissan’s ProPilot. (And don’t forget about Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) and Autopilot systems, which aren’t really hands-free, much to the dismay of Tesla customers everywhere.)

The risks are growing as hands-free driving becomes more common. To help customers understand how Super Cruise differs from other systems and to make clear the dos and don’ts of hands-free driving, GM has launched a public education campaign.

Advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) at GM inventor Andrew Farah highlights that the public awareness campaign also focuses on Super Cruise’s shortcomings. In essence, he wants drivers to understand that they are still in control of the vehicle, which is why they hesitate to refer to these systems as autonomous.

People frequently have difficulty telling ADAS from fully automated driving systems, which is nothing new. It’s simple to consider your automobile to be self-driving or autonomous if it can handle accelerating, braking, lane centering, automatic lane changes, and monitoring blind spots while you have your hands on the wheel. But there’s a catch: it’s not, and GM is keen to emphasize this. Tesla, who likes to stir things up, goes above and beyond by giving customers cutting-edge technology. But it also embellishes on how these technologies are described. For instance, Full Self-Driving does not imply that the vehicle is completely self-driving. The system frequently requests human input, so drivers must keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.

As Farah points out, Super Cruise is a “hands-free, eyes-on” device. Clarity is essential, and GM goes out of its way to ensure that customers know exactly what their system can and cannot accomplish.

Numbers don’t lie, and according to GM, there are currently close to 80,000 vehicles on the road with Super Cruise, with more models scheduled to join by year’s end. Ford, not one to be left behind, boasts that 225,000 of its cars have the hands-free BlueCruise technology installed and have driven a total of 100 million miles.

But Tesla is the undisputed king of hands-free driving. Over 400,000 cars and trucks in the US and Canada have FSDs, and they’ve driven an astounding 325 million miles. But, and this is a huge but, among automakers with cutting-edge driver-assistance technologies, Tesla also claims to have the highest crash rate. In 736 crashes involving Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot or FSD since 2019, 17 people have died.

Whether you like it or not, Tesla is driving the discourse regarding cutting-edge driver-assistance technologies. Farah agrees that GM needs to be more forthright in separating their technology from Tesla’s in order to avoid unfair comparisons.

The majority of driver-assist systems appear to be less safe than conventional human driving, regardless of the manufacturer. Drivers frequently rely too heavily on these devices, and when it comes time to retake control, they react too slowly. With ADAS, distracted driving also appears more frequently. It’s not complicated; when your hands are free from driving responsibilities, what is likely to be the first thing you do? Grasp your phone.

Super Cruise, which primarily uses highways, tries to reduce hazards by restricting the types of driving situations it can handle. But GM’s next-generation ADAS, Ultra Cruise, will expand its application to city driving, adding complexity and possible dangers. However—and this is a big but—both Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise need the driver to pay close attention to the road.

Regarding the future, Farah is mum on whether GM would enter the Level 3 “unsupervised” ADAS space. On how automakers approach and promote these technologies, it depends.

GM claims that Super Cruise is a properly tested mechanism rather than a safety net in its conclusion. The driver is still in charge and ultimately responsible for the overall security of the car and its occupants. The path to hands-free driving is filled with obstacles, but one thing is for certain: it is leading the car industry into uncharted waters.

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