News 12 checks out Consumer Reports’ new auto test track in Colchester

The nonprofit research and advocacy organization on Thursday publicly debuted the latest expansion to its testing track - a 1.5-mile, multilane loop where staff move full speed ahead to evaluate the latest in driver-assistance technology.

Marissa Alter

May 5, 2023, 9:22 PM

Updated 345 days ago

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Hidden away in rural Colchester, the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center spans 327 acres - a place that was once an old dragway but is now dedicated to the pursuit of safety.
The nonprofit research and advocacy organization, on Thursday publicly debuted the latest expansion to its testing track—a 1.5-mile, multilane loop where staff move full speed ahead to evaluate the latest in driver-assistance technology.
“Such as those that are able to control the steering and the speed of the vehicle, which essentially are the two building blocks towards self-driving cars,” explained Kelly Funkhouser, manager of vehicle technology for Consumer Reports.
More than half of the cars produced today have Advanced Driver Assistance Systems that allow them to automate certain functions with little or no driver intervention, Funkhouser said.
She took News 12 for a ride on the new course, which is designed to local and federal roadway requirements. It includes intersections, curves, hills, merges, and on/off ramps to challenge the cars in real-world driving scenarios. At times, Funkhouser had her hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals and the car remained in the lane lines, even on curves. The car even successfully chose to veer when the road split into two.
“We test them in a way to ensure consumers are going to enjoy them but also to make sure manufacturers are protecting consumers by putting in safeguards so that consumers don't over rely or over trust them,” Funkhouser explained.
Because as News 12 learned, there are limitations to these systems. At one point, the car went off the road, illustrating why you have to be fully engaged at all times.
“We're calling for driver monitoring to be equipped in vehicles with this technology for the reason I just showed, to make sure the driver is at a minimum paying attention, right? Looking at the road, eyes are open,” Funkhouser said.
Consumer Reports celebrated its new addition with a news conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Gov. Ned Lamont, National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homedny, and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety president David Harkey.
“More and more automakers are rolling out automated safety system driver assist features—some good, some not so good. And with that technology comes a lot of oohs and ahhs but also a lot of questions,” said Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports, at the unveiling. “The ADAS loop is going to help us put the latest models of these new cars to the test in the most rigorous fashion. We want to clear up whatever consumer confusion is out there. That's what we've always been about. And we want to hold automakers accountable to the highest safety standards that consumers need and deserve every day.”
Homedny, who grew up in Connecticut, praised Consumer Reports’ work.
“ADAS technologies need to be tested thoroughly. The stakes couldn't be higher. People put immense trust in these features, sometimes too much,” Homedny said. “Every driver should be able to trust that the technology in their vehicle will perform as it's supposed to every time, no exception. And yet, as tests conducted at this very facility reveal, not all manufacturers' safety technologies are created equal.”
Consumer Reports established its Auto Test Center in 1986.


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