Why are driverless cars creating more questions than answers?

Driver Ahead Conference

Driverless cars could create a highway to confusion unless training and coaching catches up with the fast pace of change and helps drivers cope with a whole new set of demands.

That is the overall conclusion reached by a collection of industry experts who converged on London for the IAM RoadSmart/RAC Foundation/Pirelli ‘Driver Ahead?’ Conference last week.

More than 100 experts in the industry talked about their findings and research for the conference, which sought to “map a safe route to the driverless car.”

During the Conference, speakers discussed how the next generation of autonomous cars will record much more information than ever before. This data can be used to resolve any post-crash insurance claims but also, critically, to inform and personalise future driver training.

Simon Thompson, Human Factors Specialist at Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Without the driving, there will be the desire to do secondary tasks – but how does the car engage with the driver when it needs him or her? 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.”

Other experts added that some drivers would inevitably misuse the vehicle systems, or simply find a way round them because they find it too complicated.

Professor Nick Reed, head of mobility research at Bosch, said: “Any system needs to be aware of the effective use or misuse of it.”

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

Nic Fasci, lead engineer for vehicle engineering and homologation at Tata Motors European Technical centre, said: “The key to autonomous vehicles is training, training, training! 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.”