More and more new cars these days come with automatic emergency braking, but plenty of car companies don’t actually call it that.
Instead, companies use different names – including Smart City Brake Support, Front Assist, Forward Collision Mitigation and Collision Prevention Assistant – for the feature, which hits the brakes if there’s something in your path.
It’s not just brakes. Companies, governments and researchers all use different names for what are essentially the same safety features.
“You might be looking for blind-spot warning, but you’ll see names like lane zone alert or lane change alert,” says Kelly Funkhouser, head of connected and automated vehicles with Consumer Reports. “Companies want to be able to distinguish themselves; that’s where we get to the problem.”
That can lead to confusion at dealerships. Buyers might want specific safety tech, but have a hard time figuring out whether cars actually have it.
Even worse, some of those names overpromise what the technology can actually do, wrongly suggesting that cars can drive themselves.
“The one that immediately comes to mind is [Tesla’s] Autopilot,” Funkhouser says. “That term has a context and a history behind it … but it’s just lane keeping assistance, automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.”
Clearing the confusion?
Last fall, Consumer Reports, the American Automobile Association, the U.S. National Safety Council and J.D. Power released a list of recommended names for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to get car makers, regulators and consumers all on the same page.
“We haven’t called for these to be standard or enforced in any way,” Funkhouser says. “We’re hoping manufacturers will use the same words to describe these things on window stickers and messaging online.”
This month, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao endorsed the list.
“Currently, there is variance among manufacturers,” Chao said. “We want to make sure that drivers are aware that these systems are designed to ‘assist,’ not replace an engaged driver, which is still very important.”
There are no U.S. plans for rules to require carmakers to use the names. Transport Canada says it is “aware” of the list.
“Establishing a common set of terms for these emerging technologies can help Canadian drivers better understand the types of ADAS features available in their vehicles and promote awareness of their capabilities and limitations,” it said in a statement.
By any other name?
One of the reasons why there are so many names for similar features is because different companies use different technology.
“They’ll say ‘we use radar, but they use a camera,’ ” Funkhouser says. “But regular people don’t need to understand the nuances, we just need to understand what the goal of the system is.”
But even with standard names, companies need to do a better job explaining what their specific safety systems can do.
“Even though we call all adaptive cruise control systems the same name, some have systems where it disengages under 30 km/h, others let you stop completely and then get you back up to a set speed,” says Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and human machine interface at J.D. Power.
Even if companies keep their marketing names for their safety packages – for instance, Nissan’s ProPilot Assist or Tesla’s AutoPilot – Funkhouser says she hopes they’ll use the standard names to explain what’s in each package.
That could help make it clearer to consumers that most cars now have similar safety tech, even if some have more futuristic names for their packages than others.
But, without rules forcing car makers to use the standard names, will they voluntarily choose to use them?
“That is the million-dollar question,” J.D. Power’s Kolodge says.“We’re hoping it will gain traction – from the feedback we’ve received so far, companies are realizing they’ve dug themselves into a hole.”
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