Driver assistance technology may have moved into the fast lane, but as ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi found out, taking a backseat could have alarming consequences.
The world’s first tests for driver-assist technology were launched on Thursday, focusing on what's known as 'autonomous’ driving systems that, among other features, help the driver maintain a steady speed or keep a safe distance from the car in front. The tests, developed by Euro NCAP and Thatcham Research, are an attempt to make driver assistance technology clearer; the NCAP say drivers are confused by what their car can - and can't do - and this could have serious safety and insurance implications.
They have already seen a number of serious accidents where drivers have "let their cars do the driving".
As Chris finds out from the backseat of the Volvo, if we rely too heavily on your car's fancy gadgets without fully understanding your car's technical capability, the results might be dangerous for you - and other road uses.
New car safety warnings, by ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi
For the first time consumers will get independent ratings to help them understand the array of driver aids aimed at making cars safer.
Today Euro NCAP/ Thatcham launched a new grading system, which will rate vehicles' driver assistance technology.
80% of new cars now have these features, which include parking assistance, self-braking, and even self-steering vehicles.
Safety researchers are concerned that a lack of understanding about driver assistance systems can mean some motorists over-rely on them.
I joined vehicle safety inspectors on the test track and saw a simulated crash.
It happened when the driver did not apply the brakes but instead relied on the collision avoidance system of a Volvo V60.
The car ploughed into the rear of a mock stationary vehicle at 55mph.
Volvo responded to the test by saying that its collision avoidance system helps prevent a collision or slow the impact - which did happen. The firm also says this model has "very high safety standards" proven by independent tests.
"Volvo has since added that the risk of the driver getting into this situation in the first place is very low as its Pilot Assist system requires them to have their hands on the wheel and be fully engaged with driving – which is recognised in Thatcham’s testing," says the firm. Researchers say some marketing used by car makers is inappropriate and misleading, for example they are unhappy with Tesla's use of the term "AutoPilot".
While Tesla "excels in vehicle assistance" in the new ratings system, its score is reduced due to the researchers concerns.
The motor industry estimates 47,000 accidents can be prevented in the next 10 years using this technology, but senior figures in the trade share concerns that some motorists may misunderstand its role - they stress that it is designed to assist (not replace) the driver.