When automated driver assistance systems go badly wrong

Matt prior opinion
Matt prior opinion

The EV9 is a cracking car on the whole, but ADAS tarnishes its character

Recently I was driving through Bakewell town centre. A lorry was coming towards me with ample room for both of us. It was mid-afternoon but wet.

As I neared a T-junction, a car approached, clearly preparing, and able, to stop at the ‘give way’ line. I was doing 20-25mph, my foot on neither pedal, in zero-regen mode in a Kia EV9, in my lane.

There was no impending drama; it was the kind of scenario you find in any town, on any day.

Until, that is, my car perceived a threat – presumably a combination of the car from the left and the oncoming lorry – saw no exit route and automatically emergency braked me to a standstill across the front of the T-junction.


It took no time at all. To the surprise of not only onlookers but also me, this SUV, unwanted and unasked, hauled itself to a stop, very quickly, in the middle of its lane without warning.

I swore, a lot, pushed the accelerator and drove away along the road that had been clear all along, embarrassed and annoyed. Then I parked up and went back to get a photograph.

If a vehicle had been following close behind, it would have been no surprise had it hit me. And I’d have had to admit to a scooterist with broken wrists that, yes, sorry, while you were riding perhaps a little too close, I can sympathise that you are as surprised as anyone that the car you were following rapidly became a solid wall.

I had the steering assist (annoying) and the speed limit assist (often wrong) disabled but left other driver assistance systems – including forward monitoring and emergency braking – in their default settings. It’s unusual for the automatic city braking feature to get things this badly wrong. I’ve recently had cars flash their concerns but not apply the brakes like this.

However, if any vehicle was going to show flaws in its driver assistance systems, I am less surprised to find it was a Kia, or a sibling brand from the Hyundai Motor Group.

We like the company’s cars a great deal (it’s why I was driving an EV9), but they do have some of the market’s most intrusive – let’s use air quotes – ‘advanced’ driver assistance systems.

It is not Kia’s fault the EV9 has so many. The EU and Euro NCAP insist on them while surely by now knowing they are not consistently reliable. The argument is that the intention is good, and that no harm – as here – should come from a car stopping, and that mostly it will get the calls right.

This is like saying you’re statistically likely to drop a jar of salad cream on your foot one time in a thousand; there’s a system to prevent that, but it will randomly pour its contents over you one time in a hundred. Thanks, then, but no.

When I got back into the EV9, otherwise such a good car, I spent 20 seconds disabling the ADAS where I could: the dash lit up with more orange than a lively Dutch football crowd, but it (mostly) left me alone thereafter. But its attention assist and lane assist can still cut in, and annoyingly so, when they don’t need to.

These flaws aren’t fundamental, but I’d urge the group’s, not just Kia’s, engineers to come here, make some assessment and amend how the systems function.

In the meantime, Kia has said: “The EV9 provides high levels of protection and safety and is one of the safest family cars on the road. No driver assist system is completely infallible, but the EV9 does a great job overall protecting families and other road users.”

A software update could sort it. And let’s be clear: Kia isn’t the only manufacturer that needs to look at these systems. Many are not good.

But there are broader conversations to be had about the role of software assistance. What’s the acceptable ratio for human-error incidents versus computer-error ones?

It’s comforting to think these systems are there for us, infallibly in the background, but if the Post Office Horizon IT scandal tells us anything, it’s to pause, and be curious, and question, and doubt. And if needs be, say it loud: this isn’t right.