Automotive Research

AAA study finds active driver assistance tech struggles in real-world testing

Close up of switches for driver assistance technology on car dashboard

Active driving assistance systems like lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control are meant to make driving safer and better. AAA automotive researchers, however, recently found that over the course of 4,000 miles of real-world driving, vehicles with these systems had some kind of issue every 8 miles on average. The systems performed better overall in closed-course testing, but most struggled to avoid hitting a simulated disabled vehicle. 

We look at what active driving assistance tech is, what AAA's study found, and what it means for drivers and car manufacturers. 

What is active driving assistance?

Active driving assistance (ADA), also classified as Level 2 automation by the SAE International, combines functionalities such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance. These systems are meant to help with maintaining lane position, speed, and following distance. Though they can autonomously control steering and braking in some situations, Level 2 cars aren't considered automated vehicles because they assist the driver rather than replacing them.

Active driving assistance is part of a larger category called advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that also includes things like blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warnings, which help the driver without taking active control of the vehicle.

Dashcam footage from a test vehicle with speedometer and other information

What did AAA's real-world testing find?

AAA tested 5 different Level 2 vehicles by driving them a combined 4,000 miles on public roads. The vehicles were 2019 and 2020 models sold in the U.S. The results:


Every 8 miles

the test cars had some kind of active driving assistance issue, or "event"



total events were experienced and recorded 



of events involved either lane departure or erratic lane position

The most common issue researchers found was that lane keeping systems had trouble keeping vehicles in their lane, sometimes coming too close to other vehicles or guardrails. These systems currently rely on cameras to "see" lane markings, and just like people, they struggle when those markings are worn out or there's glare from the sun. 

Another problem was that systems would often hand control back to the driver with little warning—a dangerous scenario if the driver has stopped paying attention to what's happening on the road. 

A test vehicle collides with the simulated disabled vehicle

What about the closed test course?

Active driving assistance systems fared better during closed-course testing, with lane keeping systems performing mostly as expected on fresh pavement with well-defined lane markers. The adaptive cruise control systems also successfully stopped in simulated stop-and-go exercises. Collision avoidance was a big exception:


66% of the time

the test vehicles failed to avoid a collision with a simulated disabled vehicle 


25 mph

the average speed at which the test vehicles hit the simulated disabled vehicle

What does AAA recommend for drivers & manufacturers?

For drivers

While adaptive cruise control systems appear to work well, lane keeping assistance struggles. Our advice is to look for a vehicle with adaptive cruise control but wait a few years until the technology improves before purchasing a vehicle with active driving assistance.

Most importantly, drivers must clearly understand how these systems work before integrating them into their driving. AAA recommends requesting a demonstration from the dealership as well as thoroughly reading the vehicle owner’s manual and other information provided online by the automaker.

For manufacturers

AAA believes manufacturers should do more simulations, closed-course testing and actual on-road evaluations prior to releasing to the mass market. These systems need to perform more consistently in order to improve the driver experience and overall reliability and safety.

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Looking for a new car with advanced safety features?

Read the free 2020 AAA Car Guide to see evaluations of cars and light trucks with the latest ADAS technology. It also covers several of the hottest automotive topics in detail, including the latest advanced safety features and the development of autonomous vehicles.

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