AAA: Despite What You’ve Heard, Your Car Can’t Drive Itself

40 percent of Americans misjudge partially automated driving systems’ ability based on their name


A new survey from AAA finds that 40 percent of Americans expect that automated features on many new vehicles — with names like Autopilot, ProPILOT or Pilot Assist — have the ability to drive the car by itself.

That indicates a strong gap in consumer understanding of these technologies and reality. AAA tested these systems, finding they’re not designed to take over the task of driving, and can be significantly challenged by every day, real-world conditions such as poor lane markings, unusual traffic patterns and stationary vehicles. As this type of technology becomes more commonplace on the road, AAA cautions consumers to look beyond the marketing language and take more time to understand their vehicles.

“Automakers must give clear directions to consumers, and set real expectations for how these new automated driving systems are designed to function,” said Michelle Donati, spokesperson for AAA Arizona. “Although these technological advances are exciting, consumers should be cautious about how they’re using these features, because misunderstanding leads to misuse. And that can make everyone on the road less safe.”

In partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, AAA tested four vehicles equipped with systems that combine technologies such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist to help maintain lane position, forward speed and following distance in relation to a lead vehicle. Key findings include:

  • During real-world driving, lane-keeping events accounted for 88 percent of events requiring driver intervention. These systems performed best on open freeways and freeways with stop and go traffic. They were challenged on freeways with moderate traffic and by urban driving along surface streets.
  • During closed-course testing, vehicles performed according to expectations. With no lead vehicle to follow, test vehicles maintained lane position with little to no difficulty. Three out of the four test vehicles were influenced by the presence of a simulated distracted/impaired lead vehicle. All test vehicles recognized a slower tow truck and reduced speed accordingly. Three out of four test vehicles required driver intervention to avoid colliding with a simulated stationary target.
  • Four-in-ten (40 percent) Americans would expect partially automated car systems with names such as Autopilot, ProPILOT or Pilot Assist to have the ability to drive the car by itself. Millennials (59 percent) and Generation X (40 percent) are more likely to expect that these systems have the ability to drive the car by itself than Baby Boomers (27 percent).

“Both real-world and closed-course testing exposed separate yet equally serious limitations with these systems,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “It reinforces that there is still much work to be done to educate consumers on the nuances between system names and functionality and that it is much too early to refer to these vehicle technologies as automated.”

In order to reduce the misuse of partially automated vehicle systems, AAA encourages drivers to educate themselves by requesting a demonstration at the dealership as well as thoroughly reading the vehicle owner’s manual. AAA also recommends drivers remain engaged in the driving task and maintain control of the vehicle at all times.

Four test vehicles were selected (2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, 2018 Nissan Rogue, 2017 Tesla Model S and 2019 Volvo XC40) using specific criteria and each test vehicle was outfitted using industry‐standard instrumentation, sensors and cameras to capture vehicle dynamics, position data and braking intervention. Complete methodology can be found in the full research report at

The consumer survey was conducted October 4–7, 2018, using two probability samples: randomly selected landline telephone and mobile (cell) phone numbers. The combined sample consisted of 1,003 adults (18 years old and older) living in the continental U.S. The margin of error for the study is 4% at the 95% confidence level. Smaller subgroups will have larger error margins.

About AAA Arizona
AAA has a proud history of serving Members for over 100 years. AAA is on a mission to create Members for life by unleashing the innovative spirit of 4,000 employees representing nearly 6 million Members across Northern California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. In addition to legendary roadside assistance, AAA offers home, auto and life insurance, and extraordinary travel services. According to Via Magazine's Smart Guide, being a AAA Member can save you more than $1,200 a year. Learn more at