Consumer Alert: AAA put driver monitoring systems to the test and only one got a passing grade

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A fascinating study released Tuesday is great information for anybody in the market for a new car, and because my car is 12 years old, I was especially interested.

When my car was manufactured in 2010, we didn’t have the sophisticated driver monitoring systems we do now. These systems are supposed to detect when you’re not paying attention. And I have a confession. I could use one of those systems. I never text and drive, but I do yell and drive. My two youngest children fight in the car like two alley cats with a tuna can and I am constantly watching them in the rearview mirror and yelling, “Don’t make me pull over!”

That’s why safety systems like these are really attractive to so many families. One of the vehicles that AAA researchers tested was the 2021 Cadillac Escalade Super Cruise technology. It uses a driver-facing infrared camera to tell when you’re not paying attention. So if, for example, you’re drifting out of your lane, it will alert you with a sound and a vibrating steering wheel, then guide your car back into the lane.

AAA also tested the 2021 Subaru Forester with “EyeSight which also uses a driver-facing camera. The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe with highway driving assist and the 2020 Tesla Model 3 with “Autopilot use a steering wheel detection system. AAA tested them as well. They did things like pretending to text and drive with their eyes looking downward to see when the systems would alert. And they found one system far outperformed the other.

"We found that by a large degree the cameras were far more effective than the steering angle sensors were,” said AAA Auto Repair Business Advisor Bryan Jajkowski. “And actually I believe it was 50 seconds for the cameras and 51 seconds for the infrared cameras as opposed to the steering angle censors itself."

That means they found the driver-facing camera detected a distracted driver almost a minute sooner than the steering wheels censors did. Think about how significant that is. If you’re going 65 miles per hour, you can travel the length of about 15 football fields.

So according to AAA, if you’re looking for a car with one of these safety systems, go with the camera detection not steering wheel detection. I’ll keep that in mind when it’s time to replace my 12-year-old car. But as good as this technology is, AAA says it’s not foolproof. It does not take the place of an alert, engaged driver who is not yelling at the kids in the back seat.