There's a new car safety rating to consider

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is workshopping new safeguard ratings for cars that utilize partial automation systems. These systems use various types of sensors to monitor road conditions around the vehicle, providing functions like automated lane changing and adaptive cruise control (ACC).

According to the IIHS, there's no evidence to support the idea that partial automation actually increases safety on the road. It also posits that, if there aren't adequate safeguards in place, these features could make driving more dangerous. Especially if drivers place an overabundance of faith in them.

"The way many of these systems operate gives people the impression that they're capable of doing more than they really are," IIHS Research Scientist and head of the new ratings program, Alexandra Mueller, said in the announcement. "As humans, it's harder for us to remain vigilant when we're watching and waiting for a problem to occur than it is when we're doing all the driving ourselves."

An overselling of a given function's actual abilities and misleading messaging is what the IIHS believes has resulted in some drivers relying too heavily on partial automation. According to the IIHS, this has resulted in some instances where drivers have erroneously treated the features like a form of autopilot, going so far as playing a mobile game instead of maintaining an awareness of their surroundings (via NTSB).

The new ratings

The ratings are set to include four different tiers: Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor. But how well these partial automation systems handle road monitoring isn't the only criteria the IIHS will be focusing on – it also intends to look at how well the vehicle monitors drivers themselves, and whether or not it provides attention reminders.

In order to earn a Good rating, the system will have to be able to ensure that the driver's eyes remain on the road and that they've either got their hands on the wheel or are ready to take the wheel at a moment's notice. In other words, the driver should never be put in a position where they believe they can completely relax while driving.

While the IIHS acknowledges that there's no way for a system to guarantee that a driver's mind is focused on the road, it points out that the technology to monitor hand position, head posture, and gaze does exist and could be used to determine if a driver is paying attention to the road.

For the moment the IIHS doesn't know exactly when it will begin issuing these new ratings, but it does expect to begin sometime in 2022.