Watch Out – Driverless Cars Are No Place To Relax

by Amir Hussein
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Autonomous Vehicle Distractions

Beware – Autonomous Vehicles Offer No Respite

Recent research highlights the significant impact of distractions on a driver’s ability to respond to emergencies in semi-automated vehicles, underscoring the necessity for regulatory policies as these vehicles become more prevalent.

Preliminary data on activities unsuitable for automated vehicles has been unveiled, covering a spectrum from work-related tasks to leisure activities such as watching videos or simply resting. The study, led by RMIT University, delves into the scenarios where a driver may need to swiftly take control of an autonomous vehicle, especially during critical situations.

Dr. Neng Zhang, the lead author of the study from the School of Engineering, emphasizes the urgency of authorities crafting policies to govern the responsible use of automated vehicles before Level 3 and 4 autonomous vehicles become commonplace on Australian roads. While the National Transport Commission has outlined a regulatory framework for such vehicles, aspects like driver training, licensing, and responsibilities are still under consideration.

There exist five levels of vehicle automation, with Level 1 and Level 2 features, such as lane-keeping and cruise control, already prevalent. More advanced autonomous vehicles, often referred to as ‘driverless cars,’ are currently undergoing trials but are not yet commercially available in Australia.

In Level 3 and 4 automated driving, human drivers will still be required to intervene during emergencies. The data from this study serves as a foundational step towards legislation that ensures drivers have sufficient time to respond swiftly and effectively to unforeseen events.

The study conducted tests using a Level 3 automated vehicle simulation, assessing participants’ ability to assume control of the vehicle in emergency situations after engaging in various activities, including working, watching videos, and resting. The results showed that all these activities negatively impacted takeover response, with resting having the most detrimental effect, followed by working, and social media being less disruptive. Additionally, the longer participants engaged in an activity, the worse their response to an emergency became.

The study also examined the impact of driver experience on takeover performance, particularly focusing on young drivers. It revealed a strong correlation between driving experience and takeover performance, with less experienced drivers responding more slowly and less effectively. This emphasizes the need for vehicle manufacturers and licensing authorities to devise solutions that ensure the safety of conditionally automated vehicles for drivers of varying experience levels.

Published in the Journal of Safety Research, this paper builds upon prior research published in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour in mid-2023. The research team is now exploring methods to enhance alertness and improve driver takeover effectiveness, with the ultimate goal of achieving a seamless and safe transition between vehicle automation and human control.

While advancements in the engineering and design of autonomous vehicles are crucial, the researchers stress that regulations must also address issues such as distraction, alertness, and driver experience before Level 3 automation can be effectively integrated into the Australian landscape. Governments play a pivotal role in ensuring road safety by acknowledging these detrimental effects and regulating non-driving activities in the context of autonomous driving. This research was made possible through funding from the Australian Research Council.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Autonomous Vehicle Distractions

What is the main takeaway from the research on distractions in autonomous vehicles?

The research underscores the significant impact of distractions on a driver’s ability to respond to emergencies in semi-automated vehicles, emphasizing the need for regulatory policies as these vehicles become more prevalent.

What activities were tested in the study to assess their impact on driver takeover response?

The study evaluated the effects of various activities, including working, watching videos, and resting, on the driver’s ability to assume control of the vehicle in emergency situations.

What were the findings regarding the impact of different activities on driver takeover response?

The study revealed that all tested activities had a negative impact on takeover response, with resting having the most detrimental effect, followed by working, while social media was less disruptive. Furthermore, prolonged engagement in an activity worsened the response to emergencies.

Why is it crucial to address distractions in autonomous vehicles?

Distractions can compromise a driver’s ability to respond effectively to unforeseen events, posing risks to road safety. Addressing distractions through regulation and awareness is vital for the successful integration of autonomous vehicles.

What role does driver experience play in takeover performance?

The research highlighted a strong correlation between driving experience and takeover performance, with less experienced drivers responding more slowly and less effectively in emergency situations. This emphasizes the need for safety measures tailored to drivers with varying levels of experience.

What is the ultimate goal of the research, and how does it contribute to the development of autonomous vehicles?

The research aims to enhance “human-automation interaction” in autonomous vehicles to improve efficiency and safety. By identifying the impact of distractions and driver experience, it contributes to the development of regulations and technologies that ensure a seamless transition between vehicle automation and human control, ultimately making autonomous vehicles safer on the roads.

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