BOISE – To prevent misuse and overreliance on new vehicle technology, many auto manufacturers have added driver monitoring systems that can detect inattentive behavior.  But according to AAA, these systems need significant upgrades in order to work as intended.

Direct systems use driver-facing cameras to identify disengagement, while indirect systems only track data provided by the steering wheel.  During testing in a real-world environment, the indirect systems allowed more than five minutes of simulated distraction over a ten-minute period (representing about six miles of travel at 65 mph) and the direct systems allowed two minutes, or about two miles of driving distance.

“A lot of bad things can happen over long stretches of inattentiveness,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “Vehicles with direct monitoring issued an alert 50 seconds faster than those with indirect, but any amount of distracted driving puts lives at risk.”

According to the Idaho Transportation Department, there were 4,200 crashes, 22 fatalities and 237 serious injuries in 2020 due to distracted driving.  That’s 19% of all crashes that occurred statewide.

“Due to the difficulty of determining that distraction was a factor, those numbers could actually be much higher,” Conde said.  “We urge drivers to keep their eyes and attention on the road.”

Using a limited-access toll road, AAA tested the driver monitoring systems of four vehicles to evaluate their ability to detect three types of simulated distraction:

  • Hands off the steering wheel, head up facing the road, but gazing down
  • Hands off the wheel, head and gaze aimed down to the right toward the center console
  • Actively attempting to “beat the system”

Researchers were able to use a variety of techniques to circumvent the technology, suggesting that additional refinements are needed in order to consistently detect and prevent inattentive driving.

AAA recommends that auto manufacturers use direct monitoring systems as a starting point for future innovation.  Further, these systems should be designed to disengage and force drivers to resume control of the vehicle after multiple alerts within a defined period.

“As drivers become more familiar with advanced vehicle features like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist, it increases the chance of overconfidence.  We’ve all heard horror stories of drivers reading books, watching movies, and even sitting in the back seat while the vehicle is in motion,” Conde said.  “But even the most advanced vehicles on the market have only reached Level 2 partial automation and still require constant supervision.