Traffic Safety

When It Comes to New Vehicle Technology, Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

AAA Foundation finds that trial and error learning gets a driver only so far

busy highway traffic and some vehcile may use driving assistance systems

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 5, 2022)—Owners of new vehicles equipped with driving assistance technology may understand it better after six months of use, but the depth of their knowledge is limited. New AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research shows that a “learn as you go” approach still leaves gaps in understanding when compared to another group of drivers who had a very strong grasp of the technology, partially due to a brief intensive hands-on training session. Also, researchers noted the disturbing emergence of a small, overconfident group of drivers who falsely believed their time behind the wheel gave them expertise with the system.

“Our research finds that drivers who attempt the ‘self-taught’ approach to an advanced driver-assistance system might not fully master its entire capabilities,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “In contrast, drivers who have adequate training are able to effectively use the vehicle technology.”

AAA recommends that researchers, automakers, and government agencies work together to better understand driver performance, behavior, and interactions in vehicles with advanced technologies.

Advanced driver-assistance systems are now common with features such as acceleration, braking, and steering in support of vehicle operations. The Foundation has previously documented gaps in drivers’ understanding of these technologies and the resulting safety implications. Less is known about how a driver’s grasp of new technology develops and changes over time, which is the focus of this new report.

For this study, the Foundation looked at one of the most prevalent advanced driver-assistance systems found in new vehicles, adaptive cruise control (ACC). This type of cruise control assists with acceleration and braking to maintain a driver-selected gap to the car in front. The Foundation examined how the understanding and use of ACC changed over the first six months of ownership for new vehicle owners unfamiliar with it.

The study found the following results:

  • During the first six months of new vehicle ownership, many drivers demonstrated an improved understanding of the ACC system’s limitations.
  • Despite learning more about ACC through regular use, the drivers failed to achieve the same level of understanding when compared to another group of drivers that received short but extensive instruction on the system.
  • A potentially dangerous sub-group of over-confident drivers emerged who failed to grasp ACC yet were highly self-assured in their knowledge. This development demands future study.

Some of the gaps in understanding include the following:

  • Falsely believing that the system will react to stationary objects in their lane, such as construction cones or other obstacles.
  • Falsely believing that the system will provide steering input to keep the vehicle in its lane.
  • Falsely believing the system can operate in all weather conditions.

“This research suggests that today’s sophisticated vehicle technology requires more than trial-and-error learning to master it,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “You can’t fake it ‘til you make it at highway speeds. New car owners must receive training that is safe, effective, and enjoyable before they hit the road.”

AAA recommends that new vehicle owners follow this PLAN:

  • Purpose—Learn the purpose of driving assistance technology by requesting hands-on training at the dealership, reading the vehicle’s owner’s manual and visiting the manufacturer’s website.
  • Limitations—Do not make any assumptions about what the technology can and cannot do. A driving assistance system should not be confused with a self-driving one.
  • Allow Time For Practice—Allow time for safe on-road practice so drivers know exactly how this technology works in real driving situations.
  • Never Rely On It—Do not rely on this technology; instead, act as if the vehicle does not have it with the driver always prepared to retake control if needed.

For this research, 39 experienced drivers between 25 and 65 were recruited. Each participant had purchased a vehicle equipped with ACC within the previous six weeks and it was not present on any vehicle they previously owned. Each driver was assessed at the start of the study and several times during the first six months. Please refer to the full report for methodology details. 

About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Now celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Foundation for Traffic Safety was established in 1947 by AAA. The Foundation is a nonprofit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by researching their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research develops educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users.

About AAA

Started in 1902 by automotive enthusiasts who wanted to chart a path for better roads in America and advocate for safe mobility, AAA has transformed into one of North America’s largest membership organizations. Today, AAA provides roadside assistance, travel, discounts, financial and insurance services to enhance the life journey of 62 million members across North America, including 56 million in the United States. To learn more about all AAA has to offer or to become a member, visit