Nissan's ProPILOT Assist Wins Praise for Keeping Driver Engaged
Consumer Reports this week rated four different automated driving systems on a new set of criteria and you may be surprised at the results. I’m sure you have seen the headlines, “Cadillac’s SuperCruise Systems Ranks Higher than Tesla” or something similar. What you may not have noticed is why and why Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist ranks right behind Tesla. I learned a lot more about the ProPILOT Assist while driving a 2019 Nissan Leaf this week.
Safety and Ease of Use
For the first time, Consumer Reports considered driver engagement as part of its rankings. “Our tests were designed to determine how well each system performs, not only at the task of steering and controlling a car’s speed but also at helping drivers pay attention to the road when the systems are turned on.”
Driver engagement is critical because if there is a problem, the driver can quickly take action to correct it. Many of the critical accidents that have involved automated driving have occurred while the driver was sleeping, reading or watching another screen. While Cadillac’s SuperCruise came in 1st, Tesla was 2nd and Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist came in 3rd. According to Consumer Reports “Autopilot scored highly for its capabilities and ease of use, while Nissan’s system was better at keeping drivers engaged.”
Consumer Reports has taken notice of the problem and decided it was time to take a serious look at the issue. “CR believes it’s a critical distinction because research shows that when these systems are engaged, drivers may pay less attention and become overreliant on the automated steering and speed control.”
The ProPILOT Assist system that is found on the Infiniti QX50 and Nissan Leaf is designed to only work if the driver keeps both hands on the wheel. It is designed to help making driving easier and less stressful, but not totally replace the driver. “We’re concerned about driver overtrust in the system,” says Andy Christensen, Nissan’s lead technology expert for technology, planning, and research. “By dialing up the vehicle’s control too high, you may wind up in a situation where the customer doesn’t understand their role in driving.”
Taking the Color Tour in the Nissan Leaf
I drove the 2019 Nissan Leaf this week, because I wanted to learn more about the ProPILOT Assist program. I found the system easy to use once I got on the highway. It works similar to regular cruise control, only it helps keep you a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you, as well as keeping you centered in your lane. It also gives you a couple of options concerning how close you want to be to the vehicle ahead of you.
It was a beautiful day to take in the changing fall colors while traveling to the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater. With a full charge showing that I had a range of 155 miles, I had plenty of juice to check out the colors and the ProPILOT Assist.
Sure enough, if you take one of your hands off the wheel while the system is engaged, it warns you to keep your hands on the wheel. I used the distance button to change my following distance a couple of times to feel more comfortable with the settings.
The ProPilot Assist uses the lane markings to keep you centered in your lane. On a portion of I-70 where the markings disappeared, the system de-activated and set off a chime to let me know that I had to do all the steering.
The ProPILOT Assist makes it very clear that it is a “hands on” system and not a “self-driving” feature. Sensors in the steering wheel make sure you are gripping the wheel. It also warns the driver that the ProPILOT Assist system is not equipped to handle sharp curves, bad weather that would obscure the lane markings, or road construction that alters the traffic lanes. In fact, ProPILOT Assist won’t let you use the system in the rain.
It is easy to use and does a great job of keeping you from getting too close to the vehicle ahead of you or drifting in your lane.
I find one of the most interesting things about the technology is that Nissan put it on its Leaf, a much more affordable car than the others tested. It shows Nissan’s commitment to the technology and that they want their most advanced technology available to all levels of drivers, not just the wealthy. The ProPilot Assist will eventually be provided on other vehicles in the Nissan and Infiniti line-up.
Other drivers will discover that it can make driving safer, less stressful and more fun. I believe that is the definition of a great amenity!