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Trust But Verify – Drivers Learn to Use Vehicle Safety Tech But On Their Terms

AAA Research Examines ADAS Use Over Time


New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers who use advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) grow more comfortable with the technology over time -sometimes too comfortable.  After weeks of using ADAS, attention to driving tended to drop.  However, these drivers also used ADAS more when highway demands were lower.


“The AAA Foundation findings from this research are a cautiously positive sign for the future of vehicle automation,” said Pat Moody, manager of public affairs for AAA Northern New England. “As drivers become more comfortable with the technology, they will be more likely to use it, which could lead to safer and more efficient transportation. But they must use it properly and understand the system’s limitations.”


The study involved 30 drivers operating a vehicle with advanced driving assistance system (ADAS) features, including Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assistance. The study participants drove the ADAS-equipped vehicle for 6-8 weeks on highways and were assessed before, during, and after on their behavior and attitudes toward the driving assistance technology.


Key Takeaways from the Study


  • Drivers can become comfortable with ADAS over time but are less likely to use the technologies in high-demand situations, preferring to use driver assistance on roads with lower traffic and better weather conditions.
  • Drivers who used their vehicle’s ADAS reported lower stress levels and greater driving enjoyment.
  • Over 6-8 weeks, there was an increase in the frequency of system warnings reminding the drivers to pay attention. This suggests that drivers became more comfortable engaging in non-driving activities as they gained familiarity with ADAS.


Intriguingly, the research found that drivers initially paid more attention to the driving task when using ADAS than when driving manually. However, after a few weeks of experience, drivers began to relax and multitask more often while the vehicle was in partial control. These findings suggest drivers can learn to trust and rely on ADAS over time. However, drivers must be aware of the technology’s limitations and prepared to take over in an emergency.


ADAS are widely available, with some technologies combining vehicle acceleration with braking and steering. Since the introduction of these sorts of ADAS features, there have been numerous newsworthy instances of drivers misusing the systems by watching videos, working, sleeping, or even climbing into the backseat.


To prevent such activities, some vehicles equipped with this technology monitor drivers using a camera-based system that watches their faces or a system that tracks steering wheel movements. Recent AAA automotive research testing found the camera-based system to be superior.


The AAA Foundation’s research reinforces the importance of the Safe System Approach (SSA). ADAS systems provide a safety benefit to drivers and other road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, by alerting the driver to their presence. The SSA is a strategic way of leveraging the engineering and behavioral countermeasures proven effective at preventing traffic crashes and the injuries that can result from them. Learn more about the SSA HERE.


The study’s findings suggest that drivers are willing to use driver assistance systems but are still cautious about relying too heavily on them. This is essential information for automakers and regulators as they work to develop and deploy safe and effective automated vehicles.


What This Means for the Future of Vehicle Automation


The findings of this study suggest that ADAS-equipped vehicles have the potential to be a safe and efficient way to travel. A Foundation report released in August estimates that available ADAS technologies could prevent approximately 37 million crashes, 14 million injuries, and nearly 250,000 deaths over the next 30 years. However, automakers and regulators must consider that drivers must retake complete control of their vehicles in certain situations.  Vehicle automation must have safety features, allowing drivers to intervene quickly and easily.


“The potential lifesaving benefits of vehicle safety technologies are maximized only when drivers keep them on and use them correctly,” said Moody. “These study results help illuminate the important and sometimes irrational ways we as drivers interact with technology.”


About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety


Established in 1947 by AAA, the Foundation for Traffic Safety is a nonprofit, publicly funded 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by researching their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research informs the development of educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other road users.

About AAA

Started in 1902 by automotive enthusiasts who wanted to chart a path for better roads in America and advocate for safe mobility, AAA has transformed into one of North America’s largest membership organizations. Today, AAA provides roadside assistance, travel, discounts, and financial and insurance services to enhance the life journey of over 64 million members across North America, including over 56 million in the United States. To learn more about all AAA offers or become a member, visit

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AAA Northern New England is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.