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A bit like exploding the myth of being ready for the electric era, new research sheds a harsh light on a lot of the guff around ‘self-driving’ cars.

There is a danger we are getting our wires crossed because the terms being used are confusing and open to misinterpretation, it says.

I mean, it is crazy to discover that 71pc of drivers around the world (53pc in the UK) believe they can buy a self-driving car right now.

Not tomorrow, now. Even more worrying is the finding that 11pc of people would be tempted to have a brief nap while using current highway assist systems.  The TestingAutomation consumer study is a serious wake-up call. Technology to assist drivers is being viewed by some as autonomous.

The study was commissioned by Thatcham Research, Euro NCAP and Global NCAP. It discovered “potentially dangerous false impressions around the apparent self-driving capability of new cars and the safe usage of highway assist technologies”.

But I hear you ask, ‘What difference does it make to us in Ireland when we’re nowhere near self-driving cars?

But we are technically because we get cars with all the bits and pieces that, the study found, are leading to confusion and to people believing cars are capable of driving themselves under certain conditions.

The key thing is you still must pay full attention at all times.  We do increasingly expect our cars to do lots for us. There is the danger of over-reliance on technology. Who is to blame for all this?

Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham, points the finger at auto-makers and advertising.

“Some car-makers are designing and marketing vehicles in such a way that drivers believe they can relinquish control,” he says. “Car-makers want to gain a competitive edge by referring to ‘self-driving’ or ‘semi-autonomous’ capability in their marketing, but it is fuelling consumer confusion.

“This is exacerbated by some systems doing too much for the driver, who ends up disengaged.”

“It is not automated driving and it is not to be relied upon at the expense of driver attentiveness. The driver is in control and must always remain alert.”

At the same time, highway assist systems can improve road safety, “but they won’t if naming and marketing convinces drivers the car can take care of itself”, Mr Avery says.

Other findings include:

* Drivers believe Tesla (40pc), BMW (27pc) and Audi (21pc) are the top three bands selling fully self-driving cars.

* 18pc of British motorists believe a car marketed as capable of automatic steering, braking and acceleration allows them to “sit back and relax and let the car do the driving”. l

* Several people said they would be tempted while using an assisted driving system to text (34pc), make a hand-held call (33pc) or have a brief nap (11pc). l

* Only half (51pc) believed they would be liable in the event of a crash when using assisted driving systems.

* Most drivers (74pc) want all new cars to be standardised for the likes of adaptive cruise control.

This all coincided with Euro NCAP releasing assessments of assistance technologies in 10 new cars. They compared the performance of highway assist systems in the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, DS 7 Crossback, Ford Focus, Hyundai NEXO, Mercedes C-Class, Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model S, Toyota Corolla and Volvo V60.

Euro NCAP chief Michiel van Ratingen says the results are clear: Even cars with advanced driver assistance systems need a vigilant, attentive driver all the time. Mr Avery adds the new Euro NCAP assessments are a “heads-up” on what these systems can and can’t do and “starkly shows their limitations”. l

* Tesla has removed full self-driving capability from the options list, with company CEO Elon Musk saying the package caused confusion after Euro NCAP test showed it could be misleading.


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