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Consumer Reports built $1 million road to test semi-automated driving features

Consumer Reports has built a new test road designed specifically to evaluate advanced driver assistance systems like Tesla's Autopilot feature.

Consumer Reports test drives around 50 new vehicles annually at its facility in Connecticut each year.

And each year, the cars get better at driving themselves … at least a little.

Semi-automated advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), like blind-spot monitors, lane-centering steering and Tesla's Autopilot, are becoming more and more common as cars inch toward full self-driving capability.

Now, the organization has built a 1.5-mile track specifically to evaluate the technology.

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"More automakers are rolling out safety systems and driver-assist features – some good, some not so good – and we want to help people understand the difference," said Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports.

"This ADAS Loop will let us put the latest vehicles – and future innovations – through our most rigorous tests. Our ultimate goal is making sure proven safety features come standard in every vehicle because your safety shouldn’t be treated like a luxury add-on."

The organization already rates ADAS through tests conducted on its existing track and on public roads, but the new loop was designed specifically with it in mind. Ford's BlueCruise hands-free highway driving system recently outscored those from all the other automakers.

ADAS Loop was built to Department of Transportation standards for road design, including curve radius and lane markers, which many of the systems track using cameras for their operation.

The $1 million road has merges, lane splits and hill crests, all designed to simulate real-world situations that might trip up a system.

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The capabilities that can be analyzed range from blind-spot monitoring to active lane-centering, which the car controls the centering to stay in a lane.

The facility has also been future-proofed to accommodate new technologies like vehicle-to-everything systems that allow cars and trucks to communicate with each other and the infrastructure in order to operate more efficiently.

"We’ve been evaluating advanced technology systems for several years and have found that, when done right, it can make driving safer and more convenient. But poorly designed systems can put drivers at risk," said Kelly Funkhouser, Consumer Reports’ manager of vehicle technology.

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