Did You See the Pink Teddy Bear?

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March 14, 2021
Edward Smith

A Creative Way to Test Driver Awareness

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) recently hired a new employee – a huge pink teddy bear.  The plushie was dressed in high-visibility clothing and secured to the back of a vehicle, which was then driven around a highway in Maryland.  The bear was used as a tool to measure driver awareness, which has become an issue due to the increase in vehicle automation features.  

The teddy bear vehicle would overtake vehicles on a Maryland interstate and compare whether different groups of drivers noticed the garish bear. It may sound weird, but that is the point – the oddness of the sight creates an objective measure of situational awareness without changing how motorists normally drive.  

The need to measure driver awareness comes as more partially automated vehicles are being driven on America’s roadways.  Automation is classified from levels zero to five, with five being vehicles that are completely self-driven. Currently, the highest automation level in production is two, which includes continuous control of braking, steering, and acceleration. The vehicle travels at a set speed and maintains a pre-determined following distance from the vehicle in front of it while maintaining itself in the center of its lane.

Level Two systems have been involved in a number of publicized crashes. The systems often struggle to manage common driving scenarios and road features, so despite their artificial intelligence, they do require constant driver supervision. Therein lies the problem – studies have revealed that it is more difficult for drivers to stay focused when they do not have to make constant adjustments to speed and steering. Scientists are working to understand whether the technology affects every driver in a similar fashion.  

Different Types of Drivers Studied

The three groups of drivers in the pink teddy bear study were all operating the same brand and model of Level Two vehicle. The groups were divided up as follows: 

  • Drivers who used similar Level Two systems regularly in their own cars that drove with the test vehicle’s partially automated features activated
  • Drivers with little to no experience with automated systems that drove with the features activated
  • Drivers with little to no experience with automated systems that drove with the features switched off

Each driver in the study was overtaken by the teddy bear vehicle three times during their trip.  The bear remained in the view of the driver for approximately 30 seconds each of the three times. Cameras installed inside the test car captured where the driver was looking along with the view through the windshield. Following the trip, the test drivers were questioned about whether they saw anything strange about any other cars they encountered and, if so, how many times they saw it.

The Results

The group who noticed the bear most often were the drivers who were familiar with partial automation features. The inexperienced-with-automation drivers who had the system turned on were the worst at recalling the pink bear.  Those who missed the bear had a tendency to look straight ahead most of the time, while the drivers who had better recall of the bear spent more time scanning the roadway ahead of them and out the passenger and driver windows.

Previous studies have revealed that those familiar with vehicle automation may become complacent and more likely to divert their attention from the road to their phone or be otherwise distracted. The pink bear study suggests that a driver’s situational awareness may improve after they have developed some experience with the automated technology.  

Watch the YouTube video.  Below is a clip discussing the dangers of distracted drivers in partially automated vehicles.

Sacramento Car Accident Lawyer

Thank you for reading.  My name is Ed Smith, and I have been a Sacramento car accident lawyer for nearly four decades.  Distracted driving causes a lot of problems on our roads.  If you or a family member has been injured by a negligent, careless driver, call my office for free and friendly advice.  Our local number is (916) 921-6400. We also provide a toll-free line: (800) 404-5400. Alternatively, send your questions to us online.

Photo Attribution: https://pixabay.com/photos/teddy-bear-pink-scary-cute-1966405/

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