Steering Wheel Sensors Won’t Save Us From Distracted Drivers

Steering Wheel Sensors Won’t Save Us From Distracted Drivers

Driver monitoring systems that watch for distracted driving through steering wheel input are terrible at keeping drivers focused on the road, according to a study from the American Automobile Association. Carmakers are building driver monitoring into the ADAS in new cars, but as Reuters reports, the AAA study found that tracking steering wheel input is not enough. Not by far.

It turns out monitoring systems that use cameras to track eye movement and head position were way better at keeping drivers focused. The camera-equipped systems prompted drivers to return their eyes to the road “around 50 seconds sooner” on average, according to Reuters.

Steering Wheel Sensors Won’t Save Us From Distracted Drivers
Photo: Getty, Getty Images

The AAA drove four different cars to test the distracted driver alerts. Two of these cars watched through camera systems; the other two monitored through steering wheel input. The tests were set up in 10-minute intervals, during the day and nighttime. Reuters cited the following results, measured in seconds of distraction time:

  • 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe : 74.9 Seconds Daytime, 77.6 Seconds Nighttime
  • 2020 Tesla Model 3: 37.7 Seconds Daytime, 37.9 Seconds Nighttime
  • 2021 Cadillac Escalade: 7.9 Seconds Daytime, 6.6 Seconds Nighttime
  • 2021 Subaru Forester: 5.8 Seconds Daytime, 6.4 Seconds Nighttime

I’ll point out that the study used a 2020 Tesla Model 3 “strictly based on availability.” Reuters made note of available camera monitoring systems in 2021 Tesla Model 3s and Ys. But that’s the only caveat. It still doesn’t excuse the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe clocking in with 75 seconds of distracted time.

Reuters says that insurance groups and safety researchers warn that people are mistaking ADAS for self-driving features. And, carmakers aren’t always helpful. For example, Tesla’s insistence that their system be called “Full Self-Driving” when the silly thing is currently incapable of full self-stopping. Ah, semantics.

I also have to wonder if there’s any variation between the amount of time before the monitoring systems determine that the driver is “distracted.” Or whether there’s a difference in the time cars are programmed to deem acceptable. You ever scan for a track on your radio or fuss with the A/C, only to pick up your gaze and feel you looked away from the road for too long? It’s a scary feeling.

I’d want my new car to agree that it’s scary, and if equipped with ADAS, to remind me to watch the damn road. One-Mississippi. Two-Mississippi. Look up! Really, 75 seconds of distracted driving is excessive.

Steering Wheel Sensors Won’t Save Us From Distracted Drivers
Photo: Getty, Getty Images

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