Keine Hand am Lenkrad: beim teilautomatisierten Fahren ist das möglich, doch das Verkehrsgeschehen sollte man weiter im Blick haben. Foto: Lichtgut/Achim Zweygarth

How do drivers react when they drive with an assistance system? Students of the Stuttgart Cooperative State University have investigated the behavior of 200 test persons. The result is disturbing.

Stuttgart – The man at the wheel lets his gaze wander – from the trees at the edge of Wildparkstraße to the thighs of the passenger, then he actually takes his eyes on the road for a few seconds before his pupils start wandering again. This time, the driver is interested in what his side-seat passenger notes on the questionnaire he has lying on his thighs.

Test drive through Stuttgart

We are on a test drive with a Mercedes vehicle equipped with some assistance systems. Students of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) determined how automated driving is used on tours with more than 200 test persons last December. And one of many new findings is quite disturbing: Those who use the level 2 driving assistance systems already installed in cars today, such as lane departure warning and speed assistance, spend twice as much time not looking at the road and instead look elsewhere than drivers of cars without this technology. What, the students ask themselves, will happen if semi-automated driving is further developed and its use becomes a habit: “Will the trend towards turning away from traffic continue and thus increase the risk of accidents?

For Professor Marc Kuhn, head of the Center for Empirical Research at the DHBW, the study, which will be published as volume 10 of ZEF’s research reports in the next few days, hits the nerve of the time. Accidents in the USA – some of them fatal – are fuelling the debate about the advantages and disadvantages of autonomous driving. “Can we rely on computers as a control and decision-making institution in the car?” Kuhn asks. And how do users react to the assistance systems currently available on the market, which allow partially automated driving in which “the driver can take his hands off the wheel, but still has to keep an eye on the road at all times in order to be able to intervene at any time”.

Parking and overtaking tested

This question was addressed by 39 students of business administration. The focus was on the test drive from the DHBW building in Paulinenstraße up to Solitude and via the Heslacher Tunnel back to the starting point. Everyday procedures such as parking and overtaking were carried out sometimes with and sometimes without assistance. Before and after the drive, the “test drivers” had to fill out questionnaires for automated driving. During the drive, their angles of vision and states of tension were measured using eye-tracking and EEG systems, although the brainwave measurements proved to be inconclusive due to technical problems.

Many drivers still see a need for development

The different evaluations of driving assistance before and after the test drive are striking. Although safety was the most frequently cited positive aspect in both surveys, driver assistance was rated higher, while stress reduction was rated lower. The changes in the negative aspects are significant: Here, the category of development needs shot forward, followed by a lack of confidence in technology. The students attribute this to (too) high expectations of the test drivers, but also to the fact that the systems sometimes failed while driving – due to weather conditions, but also due to a lack of markings.

Overall, there is no uniform picture for the students. The individual assistance systems are perceived very differently – predominantly positive assistance with parking, more reserved lane keeping and lane change assistant. However, the willingness to use the new technology and to pay money for it outweighs this. The automotive industry should, however, focus on the safety aspect of automated driving and provide more and better information. “The topic divides the users,” says Kuhn, who sees a need for action, especially based on the results of the gaze control.

Do light electric shocks help?

Although drivers keep their eyes on the road 60 to 70 percent of the time when assistance systems are switched on, “30 percent of them look away, and this figure rises to half of the time for those who are very risk-averse. Kuhn calls on the industry to “do something about this”. His students also recommend unconventional methods for those who absolutely do not look at the street: “light electric shocks to increase attention”.


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