A simple guide to complex car safety features: Part 2
Person setting car features using a smartphone

In this second part of our guide to the latest in-car safety technology, we’ll provide a simple guide to the complex world of active driving assistance (ADA). In Part 1, we looked at the many different types of advanced-driver-assistance-systems (ADAS), but ADA pulls those systems together to the next level, quite literally.

If you’re shopping for a new car in 2023 or 2024, you’re very likely to encounter ADA systems, at least as an optional extra. These features can be pricey extras, often costing thousands of dollars, but they have the potential to make driving easier and less stressful. Here’s what you’ll be getting for your money.

What is ADA?

Active driving assistance (ADA) is a term for what the car industry calls “partial driving automation.” We’ll dive into what exactly that means below, but it’s important to understand that this technology is meant to assist a driver, not replace them.

When shopping around for a car, you’ll find ADA systems marketed under many different names, depending on the car company that’s offering it. Here are just some examples:

  • Tesla: Autopilot
  • Ford: BlueCruise
  • General Motors: Super Cruise
  • Toyota: Safety Sense
  • BMW: Driving Assistance Professional
  • Mercedes-Benz: Driving Assistance
  • Volkswagen: Travel Assist
  • Nissan: ProPilot Assist
  • Honda: Sensing
  • Volvo: Pilot Assist

Does ADA mean self-driving or autonomous?

No. An ADA system, no matter what name an automaker might give it, does not make a car self-driving or autonomous. The human driver is still, well, the driver. 

If you want to learn the car-industry jargon, ADA systems are classified as Level 2 systems — Partial Driving Automation — on the SAE’s industry-standard Levels of Driving Automation. (Level 5 is Full Driving Automation, which no cars are currently capable of.)

While ADA can make driving easier and less stressful, it helps to be aware of its limitations too.

“The partial automation systems on vehicles today require the driver to be fully engaged in the driving task at all times and retake control when necessary,” said David Harkey, president of the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in a statement earlier this year. “Institute research shows that drivers who use partial automation on a regular basis often treat their vehicles as fully self-driving despite widespread warnings and numerous high-profile crash reports. However, none of the current systems is designed to replace a human driver or to make it safe for a driver to perform other activities that take their focus from the road. 

So what does active driver assistance (ADA) do exactly?

Active driver assistance (ADA) is commonly defined as “simultaneous use of Lane Centring Assistance and Adaptive Cruise Control features. The driver must constantly supervise this support feature and maintain responsibility for driving.”

In other words, ADA can support the driver, under certain conditions, by helping to steer the car so it stays centred in a highway lane, and by helping to accelerate and brake so the car maintains a set speed or distance from vehicles ahead. As a driver, you’ll see and feel the steering wheel moving by itself. (It can feel weird!)

Are all ADA systems the same?

No. They vary from automaker to automaker. Last year, Consumer Reports conducted its own, independent testing of 12 different ADA systems from various brands.

Keeping the focus on the road with DMS

Since, as the IIHS noted, “research shows that drivers who use partial automation on a regular basis often treat their vehicles as fully self-driving despite widespread warnings,” many vehicles with ADA also have something known as DMS: a Driver Monitoring System. There are a couple different types:

Indirect Driver Monitoring System: “Observes vehicle states, motions and/or driver performance indicators to estimate driver distraction, inattention, or misuse. This may include monitoring steering wheel input, vehicle sway within the lane, or a combination of other factors monitored by the vehicle systems. Some systems may provide a warning to the driver and/or limit the use of other features.”

Direct Driver Monitoring System: “Detects the driver’s eye and/or head movement to estimate where the driver is looking. Some systems may provide a warning to the driver and/or limit the use of other features.”

How common are ADA systems in cars today?

According to research by Consumer Reports, ADA systems are available on more than 50 percent of 2023 model-year vehicles, despite the fact this technology is relatively new. As ever, drivers should expect these features to to trickle down from expensive luxury cars to more affordable mainstream models over the coming years.

Looking for a home and auto insurance quote?