Better driver-training urged for autonomous car "drivers"

Recent conference aimed to “map a safe route to the driverless car”

Published: October 13, 2017, 4:45 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 3:06 PM

autonomous drive start

A conference of more than 100 industry experts looking at autonomous driving has concluded that maybe the biggest problem facing driverless cars may not be how to assign fault in a crash, but more likely it will continue to be the driver.

“There is a myth that the car will do everything for the driver,” said Neil Greig, director of policy and research at IAM RoadSmart. “It is clear the driver will always have a part to play – but is the driver ready for his new role? Clearly not. That’s the reality we have to prepare for.”

London’s IAM RoadSmart/RAC Foundation/Pirelli ‘Driver Ahead?’ Conference aimed to “map a safe route to the driverless car,” and concluded that although the autonomous vehicle’s collection of data can be used in a post-crash investigation to assign blame for insurance reasons, it should also be used to tweak future driver training.

“Without the driving, there will be the desire (for the driver) to do secondary tasks – but how does the car engage with the driver when it needs him or her,” asked Simon Thompson, Human Factors Specialist at Jaguar Land Rover. “There is a lot more that needs to be done in designing cars so that controls are easier to find, when asking the driver to take over control again.”

The pace of technology into autonomous driving has been fast and furious the past couple years, with many companies ramping up to be part of the future of motoring, but not much effort has been put into driver training and coaching as future drivers are likely to face a host of new driving-related tasks.

“The key to autonomous vehicles is training, training, training,” said Nic Fasci, lead engineer for vehicle engineering and homologation at Tata Motors European Technical Centre. “The skill of driving must be robotic before the software can be developed. The skill of driving is being eroded and this can be seen every day.”

Many believe that without the need to be paying attention to the road, many “drivers” will simply go into autopilot mode when tasked with not having to control the vehicle, choosing to catch up on emails or texts, reading the latest news or even streaming movies or television programs. However, the system then requires the driver to take control if an emergency arises, so the driver must go from doing nothing to doing everything in a split second.

“The problem with automation is that it is not currently powerful to render the driver completely redundant,” said Neville Stanton, Professor and Chair of Human Factors Engineering at Southampton University. “It requires the driver to monitor continuously and intervene occasionally. The car needs to support, not replace the driver.”

But also of concern is those who may misuse the autonomous vehicles’ systems or find a way around them for the sake of simplicity or to have “a little fun.”

“People will break unbreakable technology if they find it inconvenient,” noted Sarah Sharples, Professor of Human Factors at University of Nottingham. “What’s more, people pranking and having fun will cause security risks.”

In the end, delegates were asked to consider the words of writer and television host Victoria Coren-Mitchell, who opened the conference by introducing the concept of “death by code,” asking those assembled if road fatalities caused by computer-driven cars would be better or worse than those caused by human error.