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Driver Monitoring Systems by Ford and GM Are Only Ones to Earn Points in New Tests by Consumer Reports

  • For the first time, CR is awarding points in its ratings to vehicles with automation systems that encourage safe driving
  • CR will add 2 points to a 2022 vehicle’s overall score if it includes vital safeguards, and start penalizing those lacking safeguards in 2024 model year
  • CR also reserves the right to withhold points for vehicles with driver monitoring systems depending on an automaker’s privacy practices

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As car companies offer more features that automate critical driving functions, Consumer Reports announced today that it is evaluating whether these new vehicles have driver monitoring systems that do a good job of encouraging safe driving. These systems use computers and onboard cameras to determine if a driver is looking toward the road while the vehicle automates some steering, braking, and acceleration functions. If not, the system will sound an alert, and potentially restrict the use of automation.

When CR unveils its 2022 Autos Top Picks on February 17, the ratings will reflect scoring changes based on CR’s evaluations of these driver monitoring systems. CR will add 2 points to a vehicle’s overall score if it features a system that encourages safe driving as part of the model’s active driving assistance package.

So far, only Ford’s BlueCruise and GM’s Super Cruise will earn these additional points.

Starting with the 2024 model year, vehicles that have active driving assistance but lack adequate driver monitoring will lose 2 points from the overall score, increasing to 4 lost points for the 2026 models.

“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.”

About half of new vehicle models now offer active driving assistance systems that let drivers use lane centering and adaptive cruise control at the same time, to keep a car in its lane and at a set distance from the car ahead, according to an analysis conducted by CR in fall 2021.

However, decades of research suggest that human drivers are less likely to pay attention to a task if it’s automated, even when they know the automation isn’t foolproof. Behind the wheel, that could cause a crash.

To keep drivers in the loop, active driving assistance should be paired with driver monitoring, according to safety experts at CR and other organizations such as the National Transportation Safety Board, the European New Car Assessment Program, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

IIHS is announcing today that it is developing a new ratings program that evaluates the safeguards that vehicles with partial automation employ to help drivers stay focused on the road.

Most driver monitoring systems use infrared cameras that can track head or eye movements. If they detect that a driver’s head is turned away from the road for a certain amount of time, they may sound an audible alarm. Ford’s BlueCruise will tap the brakes to “jolt” an inattentive driver, and some systems will restrict a driver from using automation if they get too many warnings.

CR defines an adequate driver monitoring system as one that will reliably detect driver inattentiveness and alert the driver to pay attention while vehicle automation is in use, said Kelly Funkhouser, manager for vehicle technology at CR. If the driver does not react to these alerts, the system should escalate warnings in an attempt to rouse the driver. “If the driver still doesn’t react, the system should ideally bring the vehicle to a stop as safely as possible,” she says.

Funkhouser will discuss CR’s plans for awarding additional points for vehicles with driver monitoring systems that encourage safe driving today at a conference of government and industry officials hosted by SAE International.

So far, only a few automakers—including BMW, Ford, GM, Tesla, and Subaru—have added driver monitoring systems to some of their vehicles with driver assistance features, although more are on the way. All five of these automakers claim that their systems will detect and prevent driver inattention. But CR’s independent tests uncovered some serious flaws, and found that some of these systems don’t do enough to encourage safe driving. That is why only vehicles with GM’s Super Cruise and Ford’s BlueCruise performed well enough in our evaluations to qualify for additional points.

Funkhouser said drivers should not be able to engage active driving assistance if the camera can’t see the driver, and merely having one’s hand on the steering wheel shouldn’t be enough to prove to the system that the driver is paying attention. “These systems are asking drivers to pay attention and be ready to take over, but what drivers really need is a mechanism to ensure they’re looking at the road—like driver monitoring cameras,” she says.

CR also reserves the right to withhold points depending on an automaker’s privacy practices. For example, BMW, Ford, and GM told CR that their systems do not transmit in-cabin data or video outside the vehicle. Subaru’s DriverFocus system uses facial recognition technology, although the automaker tells CR it does not record any information. Tesla’s cabin camera can capture video from inside the vehicle and—if the driver chooses—send that footage directly to Tesla for its use.

Drivers may be more likely to embrace the cameras—which can prevent crashes and save lives—if they can trust them, says William Wallace, manager of safety policy at CR. “Strong privacy protections are non-negotiable,” he says. “Automakers need to give drivers certainty that these cameras will only be used for their safety.”

More information, including the details of CR test results for driver monitoring systems offered by BMW, Ford, GM, Subaru, and Tesla, are available online here.