A Consumer Reports Initiative to End Confusion About Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

David Friedman, Jake Fisher, Kelly Funkhouser, and William Wallace for Consumer Reports

Updated: October 2018

SUMMARY: A profusion of brand names for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) is causing consumer confusion. To combat this problem, Consumer Reports is leading a coalition of safety organizations, engineers, government agencies, and industry representatives to develop supplementary “generic” ADAS terminology for broad use. The goal is to advance consumer understanding and awareness of the purposes and capabilities of advanced driver assistance technologies, speed their adoption, and help save lives. At the initiative’s core are the joint efforts of an ADAS Nomenclature Working Group, a committee of organizations and experts collaborating to move the initiative forward.

VOTING MEMBERS: AAA; Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety; Bryan Reimer, Ph.D., at MIT; Consumer Reports; Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; J.D. Power; National Safety Council; and University of Iowa, National Advanced Driving Simulator.

OBSERVERS: National Transportation Safety Board


What’s in a (Confusing) Name?

Advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, have enormous potential to make driving easier, reduce motor vehicle crashes, and save lives. But they can only fulfill that potential if consumers embrace ADAS—and, if they use the technologies safely and appropriately.

Unfortunately, confusion stands in the way of both goals. Nearly a dozen distinct ADAS technologies currently exist, from systems that automatically hit the brakes if a rear-end crash is imminent to others that help steer as the car drives down the highway. While consumers who have these systems are generally satisfied, Consumer Reports has also found that many consumers simply do not understand the specific purposes and capabilities of the various technologies.

That’s why, in our November 2017 Auto Safety Report, we recommended that automakers, regulators, and consumer and safety groups work together to establish a clear, consistent, and accurate naming convention to help consumers fully understand what particular ADAS technologies do—and what they don’t do.

To turn that recommendation into action, Consumer Reports is now leading an effort to develop standard “generic” names for ADAS features and systems that would supplement company brand names and technical names used by engineers. Our goal is for those generic names to be used as common terminology by all NGOs, dealers, and manufacturers.

Though Consumer Reports currently uses a particular nomenclature, we enter this process agnostic about which names best fulfill these goals.

The core goal of this initiative is two-fold: 1) That each ADAS technology gets a single name; and 2) the names are chosen to maximize consumers’ intuitive understanding of the purpose, capabilities, and limitations of the technologies.

To better understand the nature of the problem, it pays to look more closely at a few specific ADAS technologies. Depending on the brand of the car one is driving, a single ADAS technology might go by a dozen or more different trade names, technical names, nicknames, and acronyms. What’s more, many of the names do not help consumers intuitively understand the purpose and capabilities of the particular technology.

The table below gives examples of the confusing terminology associated with ADAS technologies.

This is not a frivolous issue of semantics. Clear terminology is critical to a consumer’s ability to make an informed purchasing decision, both when shopping across brands and when finalizing a purchase. We have heard accounts from consumers who purchased vehicles that they thought had specific advanced driver assistance capabilities only to figure out later that they did not. Consider how dangerous this can be.

Clear terminology is also critical to the safe use of advanced driver assistance systems. If a driver does not have a clear understanding of the function and purpose of a certain technology, he or she could wind up over-relying on it, turning it off, or overriding it in a critical situation.

The bottom line is this: Clear understanding and awareness of the capabilities and names of ADAS features and systems can improve their adoption and sales, and help save lives.