• Electric Vehicles
  • Technology Innovations
  • Automated Driving
  • Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

Changing Driver Evaluations with Modern Vehicles

Sam Abuelsamid
Jul 15, 2021

Smart Car 5

It’s been nearly 40 years since I took my driver’s education classes and learned how to manage three pedals and a shift lever in a 1981 Honda Civic. In those days, electronics in most vehicles were still quite primitive and automation was virtually nonexistent. Today, it’s getting harder to buy a new vehicle without a suite of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and in the coming years, EVs will be far more common. Driver education and evaluation needs to evolve as a result. 

New Technology Changes How We Drive

Traditionally, the road test required for aspiring drivers to get a license involves completing a series of tasks that demonstrate that they understand the rules of the road, know how to execute a variety of maneuvers, and can correctly operate the vehicle controls. One of the big challenges we face as a society is that with increasing levels of automation in vehicles, our driving skills might atrophy. 

For example, blind spot monitoring can lead drivers to check their mirrors less frequently than they should. Lane-keeping assistance can lead drivers to pay less attention to their position on the road. In the realm of EVs, regenerative braking is a critical component to enhancing energy efficiency by converting kinetic energy to electricity instead of heat while slowing the vehicle.   

Unfortunately, any or all of these vehicle systems can and do fail at times. These failures are generally rare, but until we are living in a world of robotaxis with fail-operational capabilities, the human driver is the backup system to the electronics. They must know how to safely stop a vehicle if the antilock brakes fail or how to put in more steering effort if the power steering assist stops functioning. 

Driver Education and Evaluation Must Change with Our Cars

Recently, a Tesla owner posted to the Tesla Motors Club forum that his daughter failed her driving test because she relied on regenerative braking rather than applying the brake pedal. The examiner reported that she used an autobraking system, which is not allowed during the test. However, regenerative braking is not automatic; it is still controlled by the driver through modulation of the accelerator pedal. 

There are multiple issues at play here. This is an indication that licensing examiners need more education on the functionality of modern systems like ADAS and electric propulsion systems. In this instance, the driver appears to have been in control of the vehicle and probably should not have failed her test simply for this. At the same time, all EVs, including those with regenerative braking that can bring the vehicle to a full stop, are still equipped with friction brakes, and drivers need to understand how to safely use them. There will be times when, for a variety of reasons, regenerative braking will not function properly. 

Licensing tests need to be updated to evaluate the driver’s ability to safely operate all of these systems, including regenerative braking and ADAS. When testing in an EV, the applicant should demonstrate both forms of braking because both impact their ability to be safe behind the wheel. Guidehouse Insights' report Market Data: Automated Vehicles projects that virtually all new vehicles will have at least Level 2 partial automation by 2030 while its report Market Data: Light Duty Electric Vehicles projects that one-quarter of new vehicles sold globally by that time will be electric. We need to update both driving and testing standards and education sooner rather than later.