Drivers still suspicious of driverless cars

Google is hoping this driverless car could be the future of motoring. Drivers might have other ideas…

Drivers are struggling to come to terms with driverless cars. Recent research shows that people are suspicious of giving up control of their car and relying on computers.

The studies have been carried out for technology company Continental and insurer Direct Line. These reveal people are struggling to see the real-world benefits in driverless cars. The Continental report claims 37 per cent of people say humans are becoming too reliant on technology. Meanwhile 36 per cent think there are too many risks associated with the technology, such as it being hacked.

The Direct Line study backs this up. It found drivers equally split over whether the roads will be made safer or more dangerous. And a piece of work done on driverless cars reveals that we’re unlikely to reap any real road safety rewards from the technology until every car on the road is driverless. It seems the road towards autonomous vehicles is already a rocky one.

What do we really think of driverless cars?

Currently drivers seem suspicious that driverless vehicles will deliver an improvement in their motoring life. When technology firm Continental asked drivers what benefits autonomous cars will deliver, the second most popular response was ‘none’. When they were asked about driverless cars, the top six answers were negative. Nearly half of drivers (44 per cent) were scared of autonomous vehicles because of the loss of control. That’s three times the number who see positive attributes.

Meanwhile a report by insurer Direct Line revealed that 35 per cent of Brits are sceptical of driverless cars. Only 32 per cent think they will make roads safer while 33 per cent think they’ll make roads more dangerous. Of those surveyed, two thirds (67 per cent) said they would rather remain in control with the car only stepping in if there’s an emergency.

The Continental and Direct Line reports are backed up by driver training experts at IAM RoadSmart. Its director of policy and research, Neil Greig said: “When it comes to driverless cars, IAM RoadSmart members are not keen to give up full control. The implications for future driver competence and training as we become more reliant on technology are still far from clear.”

How beneficial are driverless cars?

According to a white paper from the University of Michigan, drivers won’t truly benefit from driverless cars until every car on the road is connected. On the US Society of Automotive Engineers scale, that’s level four or five.

The study, called A Comparison of Sensing Capabilities of Human Drivers and Highly Automated Vehicles was written by Brendan Schottle. He concluded: “Machines/computers are generally well suited to perform tasks like driving, especially in regard to reaction time (speed), power output and control, consistency, and multichannel information processing. Human drivers still generally maintain an advantage in terms of reasoning, perception, and sensing when driving.”

Where do humans fit in?

The University of Michigan report claimed that the human brain is superior to autonomous vehicle intelligence in areas of memory, reasoning, sensing and perception. It added that the perfect scenario in the short term was humans working with cars that are connected with each other. It said: “Combining human-driven vehicles or AVs (autonomous vehicles) that can see traffic and their environment with connected vehicles (CVs) that can talk to other traffic and their environment maximizes potential awareness of other roadway users and roadway conditions.”

IAM Roadsmart’s Neil Greig added: “The ultimate win-win situation is a place where information from each vehicle is shared with the vehicles around it. Add that to human experience born from a lifetime of ‘trial and error’ and you have the ideal double-act to spot crashes before they happen.”

And the driverless car takes another step closer

Driverless cars

Ford’s patent application for a car with removable steering wheel and pedals (Picture © US Patent Office)

Mass market motor manufacturer Ford has had a patent granted for a car that has removable steering wheel and pedals. The car could then have driver controls for development and while the rules on self-driving are going through a transitional phase. When the rules over self-driving have been set, the steering wheel and pedals could be removed. The plan is for the car to have two sets of driver airbags. One will be in the steering wheel, one in the dashboard. When the steering wheel is in place, the driver-side dashboard airbag would be disabled. This airbag would have sensors to tell it to activate when the steering wheel is removed.

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