The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is known for two things. Vehicle crash testing conducted by the organization subjects automakers to a rigorous standard and is very comprehensive, to say the least. The IIHS also conducts various safety-related studies, and sometimes, they leave much to be desired.
We will let readers decide whether this teddy bear adventure falls into the realm of comprehensive science by sharing the details of this study, with some extra background information included for good measure The goal was to observe driver attention on the highway, with a nod to how Level 2 semi-autonomous tech affects that attention span. IIHS decided that a large pink bear wearing a high-visibility vest tied to the back of an SUV was properly grabby.
To ensure IIHS could actually measure the responses of drivers, 31 people were called into action and split into three groups. One group was well acquainted with using Level 2 tech, one group was familiar but not experienced with it, and the third group was unfamiliar with the tech. Each driver slipped behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class with Level 2 tech and drove for an hour on a Maryland highway; the first two groups used the tech on the journey while the third group stayed on manual control the whole way.
The study doesn't specify how many people were in each group, but with 31 drivers total, it's safe to say the sample was exceedingly small considering there are over 227 million licensed drivers in the US. The study also doesn't explain what the test subjects were told ahead of this test, nor does it state if anyone else was in the car. Furthermore, the study doesn't address the subjective nature of what individuals might find attention-worthy while driving. A stuffed bear is certainly visible, but were other things happening at the time that required driver attention? That's not mentioned, either.
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The study does state that the teddy-bear-equipped SUV passed each driver three times, staying in view for approximately 30 seconds. The highway used for the experiment was Interstate 70 in Maryland, though we aren't told how much traffic was on the highway during the tests. Afterward, the drivers were asked a series of questions including whether they encountered anything odd about other cars on the road. Cameras in the test vehicle also monitored drivers while they were on the highway.
The result? IIHS says more than twice as many drivers inexperienced with (but using) the driving tech failed to mention the teddy bear. Sounds dramatic, but if the sample size of 31 was divided evenly among the three groups, that could literally be just a few people. Additionally, IIHS found that the same group tended to look straight ahead while driving instead of looking all around, where the bear might've been easier seen. As such, IIHS concluded that drivers not used to Level 2 semi-autonomous tech "may have more difficulty keeping track of what’s going on around them when using the unfamiliar technology than when driving without it."
All that said, what's your take on this IIHS study? Is it noteworthy and indicative of how semi-autonomous tech can affect driver awareness on the road? Is the teddy bear enough of an attention-getter to raise eyebrows? Is the sample size enough to draw some general conclusions? Or, is this a facepalm-worthy attempt at scientific research?
Let the discussion begin.