This Giant Pink Bear Tests Drivers’ Situational Awareness

Photo Credit | IIHS

Are you actually paying attention to the road while you’re driving? Between phones, and kids, and food there are countless reasons for people to look other places besides the road nowadays. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has decided to test just how aware people are and came up with an interesting way to find out.

It includes… a giant pink teddy bear. Maryland residents, have you seen this bear? Researchers took a giant stuffed bear and dressed it in a high-visibility jacket before strapping it to the back of a car. Then, to measure how aware people are while they’re using partial automation, IIHS compared whether three different groups of drivers noticed the animal when the vehicle overtook them.

While semi-autonomous vehicles can self-steer a car and control its speed, they all still require the driver to be aware and prepared. Most cars require the driver to occasionally touch the steering wheel to assure they are paying attention but vehicles like GM’s Super Cruise uses a facial recognition system which allows the driver to be hands-free at all times.

So IIHS took 31 people, separated them into 3 groups, put them behind the wheel of a Mercedes C300 with semi-autonomous driving and sent them onto the highway. One group was drivers experienced with lane-assist driving, the second was using it for the first time and the third had the lane-assist feature turned off.

Once on the highway, the car with the bear drove into each driver’s view three times for 30 seconds each time. Cameras inside the test vehicle recorded where the driver was looking. After their turn, the drivers were asked if they’d noticed anything unusual on the road.

The results? Almost all of the people in cars with lane-assist experience noticed the bear and more remembered how many times they saw it while first-timer users were least likely to see it at all. The cameras showed that experienced drivers scanned more of the road instead of just looking straight ahead, which could imply drivers that had no experience had reduced situational awareness.

While it was a small percentage of people tested, results may prove that semi-autonomous systems do have the potential to improve drivers’ situational awareness after learning and using the technology.

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