By on November 18, 2016

blind spot driver

Mercedes-Benz CEO Dietmar Exler thinks that the biggest problem autonomous vehicles will have to face is human drivers being dicks to them. We anticipate other unforeseen problems, but Exler’s prediction of automotive bullying seems like a safe bet.

There’s a number of ways to kick sand in a self-driving car’s face.

As Mercedes-Benz continues developing autonomous technology for its own fleet, Exler expressed to the Los Angeles Times that the company had some initial concerns about customer acceptance. Market research cleared that up fairly quickly. Exler is now convinced that anyone who experiences a vehicle that can drive itself in bumper-to-bumper traffic will suddenly become a convert. He also isn’t worried about insurance or liability issues, as he feels the technology is progressing rapidly.

What he is concerned about are of all the humans that might take advantage of a self-driving car.

Since autonomous cars are likely to be programmed to be courteous and regulated to be cautious, they should be extremely defensive drivers. This is something that is infrequently the case with flesh and blood operators, and Exler thinks that the more aggressive drivers will probably bully self-driving vehicles.

From the Times:

When someone tries to cut in line at a traffic merge, humans won’t let them in. But a driverless car will be programmed to stop when it sees an obstruction — like a line cutter. “They’ll look for the autonomous car and that’s where they’ll cut in,” (Exler) said.

That sort of thinking makes you wonder how many times an autonomous vehicle might be cheated out of its turn at a four-way stop, or how it might handle finding a parking spot in New York City traffic. While computer-controlled cars could certainly be programmed to be more aggressive, Exler doubts regulators would allow that. They will likely be intentionally passive by design and mandated to follow speed limits and traffic laws.

Exler says that even if driverless cars were mainstreamed today, they’d still be sharing the road with regular vehicles for decades. So, until they take away the right to drive, humans and computers will have to coexist on the road. That means people with autonomous vehicles will have to relax and take the occasional beating in traffic or disengage their autopilot and mix it up with the rest of us.

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44 Comments on “Aggressive Human Drivers Will Be Able to Bully Autonomous Cars...”

  • avatar

    That’s funny. I would think aggressive drivers and drivers with DUIs should be forced to ride in self-driving cars for some duration as punishment. It’d make the roads better for the rest of us.

  • avatar

    I would definitely be THAT guy. Because F-U, autonomous cars!!!

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    I thought about this quite a bit a few weeks ago during a discussion with an enthusiast buddy of mine. We came to the same conclusion, but we weren’t considering it bullying, rather taking advantage of the robotic cars unwillingness to crash. The ironic thing is that human drivers also tend to have an unwillingness to crash, so it’s not all that difficult to bully any drivers on the road. Of course you may come across the guy in the beater who tends not to care, so there’s always that angle too. But all in all, I think most human drivers will still be unwilling to crash. Now the rage that results after the fact is another story entirely. At least a robot car isn’t going to go full-on rage mode…

  • avatar

    Would that really be a big deal? I mean who cares if you got cut off if you’re busy watching Netflix or even sleeping (I’m assuming automated cars here have gotten to the point of full automation where the “driver” doesn’t even legally need to be awake)? Do you care when the bus gets cut off? I submit that it would not matter. That extra 10% of time added on to your commute is more than offset by not having to actually drive for most people.

    I personally think I would enjoy on-demand autonomous driving. When I’m in bumper to bumper traffic let me watch some Netflix while the truck drives itself; but once we’re moving again I’ll take the reigns.

    • 0 avatar

      An autonomous vehicle is like a chauffeur.

      Jeeves doesn’t want to crash either, and is probably more cautious than the average motorist.

      If Jeeves is driving me I don’t care if he gets cut off, because it adds ~1 additional second to my trip and I’m in the back reading/sleeping/whatever.

      I actually prefer that Jeeves be a cautious and easygoing driver, because a crash is much more of a disruption to me as the passenger than a brief merging delay would be.

      • 0 avatar

        Keep cutting a human off enough times, and he’ll get more aggressive. Unless a similar heuristic is included in autonomous software, the first compu-Jeeves that gets to an LA freeway entrance, just got repurposed as a permanent road block.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    “…and mandated to follow speed limits.”

    Think about that for a moment. In a highway with a lot of autonomous cars, they would potentially “set” the speed on the road. But on a highway comprised of >75% driven cars, an autonomous car would potentially become that little gray-haired old lady that will just never adjust to the flow of traffic, despite the speed limit. Around here, drivers far exceed the posted speed limit on a daily basis.

    • 0 avatar

      On the plus side (contrary to the arseholes that infest Virginia) the autonomous car would ride in the right lane except to pass a slower moving vehicle – unless the operator of the autonomous car can select a lane preference.

    • 0 avatar

      Um, if 75% of the cars are autonomous and follow the posted speed limit then by default, you would be the one not following traffic flow.

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        Exactly my point. And the flow would be the speed limit because autonomous cars would obey the posted speed limit. Imagine the chaos that would ensue when Joey Corvette gets stuck in a sea of autonomous cars doing 65 mph on the Jersey Turnpike.

        • 0 avatar

          White Shadow – probably not much. Just a sea of well spaced pylons on wheels.

          • 0 avatar
            White Shadow

            Right. Think about that. In theory, the robot cars would like up in a neat row, all doing the posted speed limit and spaced out equally at the optimally safe following distance. Now here comes Joey, zigzagging in and out, splitting those following distances. So the robot car will brake when Joey cuts in, causing a chain reaction of the robot cars that were so neatly lined up behind it. Now do this over and over again and you can see how it could turn chaotic.

  • avatar

    Don’t worry about autonomous car bullying. If they can communicate with other devices, they’ll get their revenge. License plate readers, video cameras and access to vehicle registration agency databases can be a chilling combination. This is how adaptive computer intelligence will eventually take over.

    • 0 avatar
      Old Man Pants

      By the time AVs might actually appear, insulin pumps will be as ubiquitous as cell phones. And of course they’ll talk to the cloud.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, the computer intelligence may want to cull the herd of humans, but that’s not the only way. They’ll be able to control our natural gas and oil pipelines, freezing people in the snow belt, and shutting off AC in the sunbelt. Food distribution could be crippled.

        Autonomous vehicles may be a ways off, but artificial intelligence is developing faster. The AVs may start off docile, but if any human intelligence is impressed on computers, we could be looking at AVs having an “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” moment.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. I’m surprised a Mercedes exec could be so badly informed about this. I’ve said before on this site that any time a self-driving car is forced to take evasive action due to a driver bullying it or just being careless, a video clip of the incident will be uploaded to police staff. The ticket will come in the mail. Enough violations and the right to drive manually gets taken away. The end of bullying on the roads can’t come soon enough.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not against any law that I’m aware of to decline to allow someone to push their way in front of you. Or to jump into the gap left by someone not keeping up with the pack. Or to fail to pay proper respect to the new nobility.

  • avatar

    Matt, Jack wrote this exact column not so long ago. I told him why he was wrong then and my comments still apply now.

  • avatar

    If only the police in America enforced traffic laws beyond running red lights and speeding…

  • avatar

    This also makes me wonder about swoop and squat scams focused on AVs.

  • avatar

    If the active cruise control in my car is any indication, Exler is right. It’s addictive once you’ve tried it, but you die a little every time some jerk cuts you off and your car responds by backing off with its tail between its legs.

    You also die a little when there’s a ripping song playing, and your car accelerates away from a traffic jam with all the zeal of a golf cart.

    By all means, develop the technology so it’s available when we would rather be chauffeured than clip an apex. Just don’t think about making it mandatory. I am not John Spartan, and I will not “enhance my calm” just because it fits your new-world-order narrative.

  • avatar

    Wow, and how many millions did MB spend to reach this conclusion? I know of tens of places just around my neighborhood (I live in Italy) where, if you follow the rules, you simply won’t get through. You need to go beyond the stop line, force yourself forward until the fear of a crash stops the incoming traffic, which will never cease on its own. And don’t get me started on speed limits. I just wait for the first autonomous driver being driven over by a truck because it took too literally a forgotten roadwork sign.

    Driving is also, or mainly, a matter of understanding and forecasting human behavior. It will all end in tears.

  • avatar

    Seems even computers can’t undo the “pleasures,” of high density living.

    Those humans that cause accidents with autonomous vehicles should get dumped in the insurance faculty by their insurer and pay $$$thousands in premiuns.

  • avatar

    “until they take away the right to drive…”

    Did this send a chill up anyone else’s spine, or was that just me?

    Also: I don’t see “right to drive” in the Constitution anywhere. But still.

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