Drivers tend to overlook the safety limitations of some active driving assistance systems when the branding and marketing used to sell them suggest an “automated” driving experience, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Researchers found consumer information that stresses the convenience and capabilities of such systems, while minimizing limitations, can inflate expectations regarding what each system can do and the situations that it can handle. AAA warns that a false sense of system capabilities created by marketing campaigns can lead to dangerous scenarios on the road.

“Based on data collected from our research, subtle differences in tone and emphasis significantly influenced people’s understanding of the technology and their expectations of its capability,” said Dr. David Yang, Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “These systems assist the driver and take some of the stress out of driving, but they don’t eliminate the need for drivers to pay attention.”

In this latest AAA Foundation study, 90 research participants received a brief overview of an active driving assistance system with a realistic but fictitious name. Before driving the same vehicle, half of the participants were told their system was called “AutonoDrive” and were given training that emphasized the system’s capabilities and driver convenience. The remaining participants were told the system was named “DriveAssist,” and their training placed greater emphasis on the system’s limitations and driver responsibility.

Participants trained on AutonoDrive came away with greater confidence — and in some cases, overconfidence — in the system. After completing the training and driving the test vehicle, 42 percent of the participants using AutonoDrive, said its name made the system sound more capable than it is, while only 11 percent of DriveAssist users felt the same.

Sample perception differences between AutonoDrive versus DriveAssist

AutonoDrive DriveAssist
The system would make them feel more comfortable eating while driving 65% 27%
The system would make them feel more comfortable using a handheld cell phone 45% 13%
The system can take action to avoid a collision when a vehicle directly to the side begins steering into it to change lanes 42% 4%
The system can automatically reduce speed on a tight curve without the driver doing anything 56% 27%


“Automakers are in the business of selling vehicles.  Understandably, they will emphasize convenience and system capabilities in their marketing campaigns. But, their marketing campaigns, materials and consumer information should not mislead motorists,” said Jake Nelson, AAA Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research. “Words matter. We can do better by taking care to be more realistic in setting expectations for consumers such that the sale of a new vehicle does not come at the expense of safety.”