The Safety of Self Driving Cars

By Lori Straus

Consumer Reports published their first safety ratings for vehicles with driving assistance in 2018. Both years, Cadillac’s Super Cruise came out on top. What is it about Cadillac’s driver assistance feature that the magazine loves? In this blog post, we’ll share the highlights of the article and explain the basics of automated vehicles (AV) in Ontario.

What is Cadillac’s Super Cruise?

Cadillac released its first CT6 models with Super Cruise on September 6th, 2007. The driver assistance feature was designed for highways and is available with the OnStar safety and security plan.

Super Cruise uses cameras and sensors to help you stay in your lane. In addition, Cadillac’s proprietary head tracking software monitors if you’re paying attention to the road through its infrared cameras and sensors. If the system feels you’re focused elsewhere, it will alert you. If you don’t respond, the car will begin slowing down. It will also call for assistance if it deems that step necessary.

What Consumer Reports Has to Say

For Consumer Reports, “driving assistance” means any vehicles with adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance. Cars with these features adjust speed when needed and monitor your position between the lines.

Consumer Reports says that the most important feature of Cadillac’s Super Cruise is its driver monitoring system. Because driver assistance takes over some of the driving work, drivers’ minds can begin to drift.

“Even after two years,” writes Consumer Reports, “Cadillac’s Super Cruise remained our top-rated system because, when turned on, it uses direct driver monitoring to warn drivers that appear to have stopped paying attention to the road.”

The driving assistance available on the other vehicles tested, including Tesla’s Autopilot system, had weaknesses in this area.

“To be clear, active driving assistance doesn’t make a car ‘self-driving,’ but rather it’s intended to support the driver—a well-designed system can help relieve driver fatigue and stress, such as on long highway road trips or in stop-and-go traffic,” writes the consumer magazine.

The Difference Between Self-Driving and Driver Assist Vehicles

The terms “self-driving” and “driver assist” can cause some confusion. Self-driving vehicles can navigate the roads on their own, or they at least try to do so. Driver assist vehicles help with the driving, but the driver still makes the major decisions.

However, in both cases, the driver must always be in charge of the vehicle. Cadillac is clear about that on their website: “Safety features are no substitute for the driver’s responsibility to operate the vehicle in a safe manner. The driver should remain attentive to traffic, surroundings, and road conditions at all times.”

Self-Driving Vehicles and Ontario Law

In January 2019, the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario updated its laws for its AV pilot program. Some AVs can be driven on Ontario roads, but they must fulfill three requirements:

  • They must be equipped with SAE Level 3 technology or lower. (I’ll explain that in a moment.)
  • AVs must be available for purchase by the public in Canada.
  • The AV technology must be installed during manufacturing. It’s illegal for the general public to drive Level 3 vehicles with aftermarket solutions installed.

SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers International. The organization created a universal standard for AVs. Vehicles with Level 3 technology mean the vehicle becomes a co-pilot with the driver. The vehicle takes care of many functions that are critical to the vehicle’s (and therefore your) safety. However, the driver must be ready to take over driving at any time.

For context, Level 0 means no automation, and Level 5 is reserved for vehicles with full automation, i.e., without the need for a human driver. The Cadillac Super Cruise feature falls under Level 2 of the SAE automation scale.

You Can’t Blame Technology

When we get the blue screen or beach ball of death on our computers, we have the urge to throw them against the wall because we can no longer work for the day. Indeed, if your computer installs an update at a critical time in your day, there’s nothing you can do about it. However, Ontario law clearly states that you are still responsible for the vehicle you are driving. In other words, if the vehicle makes a bad decision, it’s your fault.

Vehicles with driver assistance, like Cadillac’s Super Cruise, go through extensive testing before being deemed safe for the general public. But that means you need to find the driver assist system that will make it easiest for you to stay in control.