Self-Driving Cars: Are the Safety Features Worth It?

You’ve been hearing about it for a long time now – the advent of the self-driving car – and while it seems like science fiction, the reality is, that we are getting darn close to vehicles that can do all the heavy lifting for you. They call it “Intelligent Drive” at Mercedes Benz, a number of bundled driver-assist features that allow the car to drive itself. There are cameras to augment sensors on the car, steering-assist and even brake assist. Take your hands off the wheel and the car literally drives itself. I recently went to Consumer Reports test track to drive a Mercedes S550 to find out exactly what it’s like to be behind the wheel of a car that drives itself. And, the answer is this: It’s not easy to give up control!

For example, when we tested the brake assist feature, rolling up to a barrier at 20 miles per hour, I found it too irresistible to punch the brake before the car did itself. To me, it’s just a little creepy giving up that much control over to a machine. On the other hand, if I were nodding off at the wheel on a dark and stormy night, I might be glad to have such a feature. There’s also a warning when you stray out of your lane and a park assist feature. The package on this particular model costs $2,800, but you can find other vehicles with some of these features integrated into the overall cost of the vehicle. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee can parallel park you, although I found the experience uncomfortable since it makes the move super quickly and, in my case, would have ended up on the curb had one existed. However, the Jeep’s blind spot monitoring was terrific.

I am not sure I would pay for all these features – not now anyway – but there are two features that all of these cars seemed to have that I would love to see as standard features. One is a back-up camera. I own a crossover and I find the ability to see behind my car is constrained. A rear-view camera would be welcome. The blind spot detection was also a bonus. Bottom line: I’m not sure I’m ready for all this technology yet, but some of it is much appreciated.