Nonprofit groups to rate U.S. vehicle driver monitoring systems

FILE PHOTO: A Model 3 Tesla vehicle navigates morning rush hour using the car's auto pilot feature in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two nonprofit bodies, Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), said separately on Thursday they are reviewing safeguards put in place by automakers for vehicles with partial automation.

The announcements come amid scrutiny of Tesla's driver assistance system Autopilot, which handles some driving tasks and allows drivers to keep their hands off the wheel at times.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in August opened a formal safety probe into Autopilot in 765,000 U.S. Tesla vehicles after a series of crashes involving Tesla models and emergency vehicles.

IIHS said in a statement that most current partial automation systems have some safeguards in place to help ensure drivers are paying attention but "none of them meets all the pending IIHS criteria."

For vehicle safeguards to do well under its planned new ratings "systems will need to ensure that the driver's eyes are directed at the road and their hands are either on the wheel or ready to grab it at all times," the industry-funded group said.

"Partial automation systems may make long drives seem like less of a burden, but there is no evidence that they make driving safer," IIHS President David Harkey said.

Consumer Reports, an influential publication that tests vehicles, said research suggests human drivers are less likely to pay attention to automated tasks, even when they know the automation isn't perfect.

Its testing found flaws in Tesla, BMW and Subaru's driver monitoring systems, it said. The three automakers did not immediately comment.

Initially only Ford and General Motors will earn additional points in its 2022 vehicle ratings next month for driver monitoring systems, the magazine added.

"Only GM and Ford prevented a driver from using active driving assistance if they stopped looking at the road," it said.

In 2020, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) criticized Tesla's lack of safeguards in a fatal 2018 Autopilot crash in California involving a driver playing a word-building game on his phone during the fatal trip.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy praised the new IIHS rating program as "a meaningful step" towards more informed consumers and safer roads.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Richard Pullin)

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