As Donna Lee approached the intersection of Roberts Drive and Spalding Drive in Sandy Springs, Ga., the salesman in the passenger seat told her not to hit the brakes, even though two cars were stopped and waiting at the red light ahead.
According to court documents, Lee and Mercedes salesman Desmond Domingo have similar accounts of what happened next on the evening of May 10, 2014. The Distronic semiautonomous system in the Mercedes-Benz GL450, which Domingo believed would bring the car to a full stop, did not kick in as he expected. The Mercedes slammed into the car in front of it at around 40 mph, causing a chain reaction of crashes that left a 16-year-old driver with a concussion and significant damage to the cars involved.
Situations such as that -- when car salespeople are trying to demonstrate semiautonomous technology to customers who've never experienced it -- are emerging as a concern for industry watchers who fear salespeople will oversell or misrepresent technology, leading to accidents.
November was the deadline to submit comments on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. Several groups that submitted comments on the pending guidelines said the policy does not go far enough to outline what kind of training the dealership sales force should undertake.
Semiautonomous technology is rolling out piecemeal, and each automaker has a system that does something different. Some bring a vehicle to a full stop. Some slow the vehicle to about 5 mph. Some can keep the vehicle in the lane, with little input from the driver. Others issue warnings when the vehicle is about to leave the lane but leave the driver in control.