Keep it simple, keep it clear.
We understand why manufacturers come up with fancy-sounding names for safety and advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) features. Audi Side Assist sounds way more impressive than blind-spot monitoring. "My car doesn't just have blind-spot monitoring, bro. It has Audi Side Assist."
But a group of companies involved in the automotive and automotive safety spheres has started a coalition to lobby for the standardization of these features. The AAA, Consumer Reports, J.D. Power, National Safety Council, PAVE, and SAE International have teamed up to urge automakers, regulators, safety organizations, journalists, and other stakeholders to use standard terms instead of the confusing jargon manufacturers use.
Since we're part of the group this coalition is calling out, we're here to say: We hear you. Developing a standard list of names sounds like a great idea.
The nameless coalition wants to focus on six overarching categories. The list includes collision warning, collision intervention, driving control assistance, parking assistance, driver monitoring, and other driver assistance systems.
"The terminology used by automakers to describe ADAS features varies widely, which can confuse consumers and make it difficult to understand the vehicle's functions," the coalition said in a statement. "Further, when the capabilities of vehicle safety features are overstated or misrepresented with marketing language designed to reel in buyers, consumers may over-rely on these systems. Establishing a common language for ADAS helps ensure drivers are fully aware these systems assist, not replace, an engaged driver."
These companies have been at it since 2019 and have come up with a standard list of feature names and explanations. Each year, it adds new features. This year it added "Lane Centering Assistance," which is defined as providing steering support to assist the driver in continuously maintaining the vehicle at or near the center of the lane. It also added an entirely new category for driver monitoring, explaining the various ways in which the car monitors the driver. It makes for good reading if you want to check it out in its entirety.
In the spirit of safety, we decided to unpack a few of the most misleading safety systems out there, starting with Tesla's infamous Full Self-Driving. Tesla chose a poor name for what is essentially a Level 2 autonomous system that requires the driver's hands on the steering wheel at all times.
Here we can clearly see what the coalition is on about. Full Self-Driving combines Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, and autosteer on city streets and traffic and stop sign control. The two Autopilot systems are a collection of individual features that work together to emulate a car that's on autopilot.
Looking at the various systems, we can see a discrepancy between the standard names the coalition wants to use and the words Tesla's marketing department used. Instead of adaptive cruise control, Tesla uses Traffic-Aware Cruise Control. Tesla uses Autosteer, which is essentially lane centering assist and adaptive cruise control working in harmony.
The main aim is to avoid confusion about what these systems are capable of. BMW's cruise control is the perfect example. It has adaptive cruise control, defined as "cruise control that also assists with acceleration and/or braking to maintain a driver-selected gap to the vehicle in front."
BMW's system is called Active Cruise Control, which is easy to understand. Yet, owners can override the radar that controls the distance between the cars for whatever reason. Instead of referring to it as just plain old cruise control, BMW named it Dynamic Cruise Control. In short, a brand new name for a system that's been around for two decades.
Hyundai's system is called Smart Cruise Control, though it's not as smart as the marketing department wants you to believe. The main selling point is that it can handle stop-and-go traffic, which is also included in the definition of adaptive cruise control. "Some systems can come to a stop and continue while others cannot."
Another feature with a wide variety of names is Automatic Emergency Braking. The straightforward definition is a system that "detects potential collisions with a vehicle ahead, provides forward collision warning, and automatically brakes to avoid a collision or lessen the severity of impact. Some systems also detect pedestrians or other objects."
This is precisely what Mazda's Smart Brake Support does, which is also true of Mercedes-Benz's Active Brake Assist. They do the same job, but they are labeled differently.
The worst offender is blind-spot monitoring, however. We already mentioned Audi Side Assist, but you also have Buick's Side Blind Zone Alert, Volvo's Blind Spot Information, and Ford's Blind Spot Information System, or BLIS for short.
Ford's BLIS system points to the root of the problem. Driver assistance systems are no longer the big selling point they used to be, even though the Germans have a habit of still charging you for these features.
Even a car as mundane as the Nissan Kicks (roughly $20,000 to $23,000) is equipped with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic rear braking, and adaptive cruise control.
And there's your answer. Mercedes-Benz was the first manufacturer to mass-produce a car with adaptive cruise control. It famously made its debut in the W220 S-Class. The S-Class has been a showcase for next-generation technology that will eventually filter down into other production cars.
That's precisely what happened here. All cars now have at least adaptive cruise control, a rearview camera with parking lines, and a basic collision avoidance system with automatic braking.
These features are no longer a unique selling point, but manufacturers can make them sound more impressive by making up fancy marketing jargon. "No, sir. The Ford Mustang does not have blind-spot monitoring. It has BLIS." Cue dramatic music.
We hate singling out Ford because most manufacturers employ wordsmiths for this very reason. Coming up with new words and fancy acronyms is a full-time job. The new BMW 7 Series doesn't have a big-ass screen for the rear passengers. It has the BMW Theatre Screen.
BMW's name for its screen is not as offensive because it's not a safety system. Regarding safety, manufacturers should be clear about what their cars can and can't do. The biggest offender is probably Tesla. While it provides an explicit proviso on its website, calling the system Autopilot wasn't the best idea. It creates the illusion that the car can drive itself, which it absolutely can not do.
The coalition is calling for window stickers with precise information, using the definitions provided. That way, a consumer will know exactly what the car is capable of and what they can expect from it.
Usually, we don't like holier-than-thou safety advice, but in this case, it makes complete sense.