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Safety group to rate cars with partial autonomous features for first time

wrecked Tesla
May 7, 2016 crash in Willison, Florida after a Tesla in autonomous mode failed to stop when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of it at an intersection.

Vehicles with partial automation, like Teslas, will be rated for the first time by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) starting later this year.

David Harkey is president of IIHS. He said to get the highest rating, automakers will have to add new technology to ensure the driver's hands are on the wheel at all times.

And the car won't be able to automatically change lanes without driver input.

"You as the driver have to remain in the loop and have to stay engaged in the driving task," said Harkey. "You're responsible for maintaining the safe operation of that vehicle."

Harkey said it's also important that people realize there's no such thing as a fully self-driving car on the road today.

"At times from some of the advertisements and some of the marketing it looks like these vehicles are indeed self-driving. And they're not."

IIHS is also studying whether partial autonomous technology improves safety or is just for convenience. Harkey said there are many safety advantages to features like automatic braking and lane change alerts, but so far, it looks like the autonomous driving feature is more for convenience.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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