Jan 20, 2022 - Economy & Business

Consumer Reports: GM, Ford are safest when it comes to automation

Image of a woman driving a Cadillac Escalade with hands-free Super Cruise technology

Cadillac's Super Cruise hands-free driving system keeps an eye on drivers. Photo: GM

Consumer Reports tested the driver monitoring systems in today's cars and "uncovered some serious flaws," finding that most "don’t do enough to encourage safe driving."

  • Only GM and Ford are getting it right, according to CR, which comes out with its annual car rankings on. Feb. 17 — and will, for the first time this year, factor in these particular safety features.

Why it matters: Driver monitoring systems are new features that carmakers are adding alongside assisted-driving technology like adaptive cruise control and lane-centering. These camera-based systems are intended to make sure drivers who use the automated features are still paying attention.

  • Only five companies have driver monitoring so far, but it'll soon be commonplace in most cars with assisted driving tech.

What they're saying: “We believe it's time to recognize vehicles that have found a safer way to deploy this technology,” said Jake Fisher, senior director of CR’s Auto Test Center.

  • “GM's Super Cruise and now Ford's BlueCruise both have the right combination of helping drivers enjoy the convenience of automation while verifying that they're keeping their eyes on the road."

Where it stands: About half of new models now offer active driving assistance systems, per a CR analysis.

  • But only five automakers—BMW, Ford, GM, Tesla, and Subaru—have added driver monitoring alongside the technology.

How it works: Most driver monitoring systems use infrared cameras that can track head or eye movements.

  • If the driver turns away for a certain amount of time, they may sound an audible alarm.
  • Ford’s BlueCruise will tap the brakes to “jolt” an inattentive driver. In GM vehicles, a light on the steering wheel will flash.
  • If, after multiple alerts, the driver doesn't react, the system will bring the vehicle to a safe stop.

Details: In tallying its rankings, Consumer Reports gave extra points to GM and Ford — the only automakers whose monitoring systems prevent use of the technology if drivers aren't paying attention.

  • The systems from BMW, Subaru and Tesla all allowed drivers to keep using assisted-driving features even if the monitoring camera was blocked, or shut off, CR found.

What to watch: Beginning with the 2024 model year, CR said it will deduct points from cars with assisted-driving features that lack adequate driver monitoring.

The bottom line: The Biden administration is stepping up its scrutiny of assisted-driving systems, too.

  • NHTSA has also opened a formal investigation into Tesla Autopilot after a series of crashes involving emergency vehicles.
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