By on August 10, 2017

autonomous testing tesla

Autonomous vehicles are about as polarizing a subject as you could possibly bring up around a group of car enthusiasts. Plenty of gearheads get hot under the collar at the mere concept of a self-driving car. Meanwhile, automotive tech fetishists cannot wait to plant their — I’m assuming — khaki Chinos into the seat of an autonomous vehicle and enjoy a coffee without the hindrance of having to actually drive the thing to their destination.

I’ve previously discussed how autonomous cabs will become unparalleled filth-boxes, destined for salacious behavior. Because without driver oversight, why not sneeze into your hand and wipe it on the seat back? Now, surveys are beginning to indicate privately owned computer-controlled cars will be subject to similar activities — with some drivers suggesting they’ll have no qualms about having sex, drinking booze, or binge eating behind the wheel.

That’s the future we’re being promised, but a lot of autonomous features have already made it into modern production cars. Word is, they’re starting to make us terrible drivers. It’s enough to worry automakers to a point where they’re considering implementing an array of systems to more actively encourage driver involvement on a platform that’s designed to do the opposite.

Get ready to drive your self-driving car. 

Beginning with the aforementioned survey, Erie Insurance commissioned an online Harris Poll (surveying 2,993 drivers licensed in the United States) to get a sense of what they might do with an autonomous vehicle. Of the group, 45 percent said they’d definitely make phone calls, 42 percent said they’d eat, 27 percent were willing to read, and 21 percent claimed they’d watch television.

On the scarier side of things, 19 percent said they’d try to sleep, 7 percent admitted they’d be willing to engage in “romantic activities,” and 5 percent said they’d be totally fine with drinking behind the wheel. One third, or 33 percent, of respondents also believed that one of the biggest advantages of self-driving cars will be the ability to get home safely if under the influence of drugs or alcohol — even if they weren’t already willing to risk trying it themselves.

Considering autonomous vehicles will still require some level of driver involvement for years to come, it’s a little scary that only 35 percent of the respondents said they’d do nothing other than simply drive the car. Driver intervention seems like a mandatory precaution for the foreseeable future, so all of those morons thinking about taking a nap had better pop some NoDoze or Jet-Alert (or whatever truckers still take) and mind the road.

If you’re of the assumption that nobody would dare abandon their duties as a driver until self-driving cars reach autonomous perfection, think again. The NHTSA investigation into the fatal Tesla crash, where the victim was allegedly watching a DVD when the vehicle’s Autopilot system failed to recognize a semi-trailer, discovered the car’s computer alerted the driver to retake the wheel seven times prior to the crash.

Tesla’s updated Autopilot system now requires additional driver involvement, mainly as a way to safeguard it against litigation — something other automakers are considering as they develop their own systems. General Motors plans on installing eye-tracking technology on Super Cruise-equipped Cadillac models later this year, while Nissan’s ProPilot Assist brings the vehicle to a full stop if the driver takes their hands off the wheel for an extended period.

Vehicular fatalities increased by 14 percent over the last two years, with over than 40,000 people dying in avoidable wrecks in 2016 alone. Plenty of that is due to a marginally higher number of total drivers, but NHTSA research suggests electronic distractions have increased while cell phone usage has dropped. The agency believes it to be a contributing factor to the increased number of roadway deaths.

Obviously concerned how all of this will evolve, automakers are wary of enabling drivers to develop bad habits while placing undeserved faith in self-driving technologies. “What are the new risky behaviors going to be?” Chuck Gulash, director of Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Is it going to be people testing their vehicles to the limits? Or showing off to their neighbors?”

Practically every survey shows the general populace is extremely wary of new technology, but these apprehensions typically dissolve after a few weeks of ownership. That’s when complacency grows, along with the risk of accidents.

A University of Michigan study hints this may already be occurring with present-day driver assistance technology. The school conducted research for an automaker concerned with how people use blind-spot detection systems — finding a significant increase in drivers failing to look over their shoulder to check for themselves when changing lanes.

“The more they are exposed to these systems, the more they trust the systems,” said Shan Bao, as associate researcher at the university’s Transportation Research Institute, who conducted the study. In emergency situations, “they’ll trust the systems more than they’ll trust themselves.”

People like features that make their commute less stressful, but higher stress situations also force you to be more alert and better prepared for whatever comes next. Automakers straddle the line by promoting an autonomous future where the driver doesn’t have to do anything, like Hyundai’s “Empty Car Convoy,” and mitigating real world risk by employing systems that force the driver to remain involved.

“There are lots of concerns about people checking out and we are trying to monitor that now,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Everything we do that makes the driving task a little easier means that people are going to pay a little bit less attention when they’re driving.”


[Image: Tesla Motors]

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40 Comments on “Autonomous Features Are Making Everyone a Worse Driver...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is why I say the SAE Level 2 and Level 3 autonomous vehicle categories should be eliminated.

    Levels 4 and 5 require virtually no driver input. If the mfrs really think their vehicles will comply with Level 4 or 5, let them stand by it. However, they won’t, and it will come down to a question of liability they are unwilling to absorb.

    BTW, I believe the DVD allegation against the Tesla driver has been debunked. I think the guy was asleep. You don’t ignore 7 alarms without being totally asleep, and he would have seen the semi even if he had lifted his eyes once before impact.

    • 0 avatar

      Fully agree. Level 2 and 3 autonomy are going to create a liability mess; furthermore, their logic goes against everything cognitive scientists and ergonomists have discovered in the last fifty years about Human-Machine interaction.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know if you’ve read, but since Intel purchased MobileEye, they’re launching some 100 lvl 4 autonomous vehicles for real-world testing by the end of the year. That’s just one hair away from removing the steering wheel entirely.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t wait for autonomous car crashes, killings of children and increase in accidents altogether as drivers no longer checking their blind spots, etc. Only then some people in charge may realize that this is another boondoggle.

  • avatar

    I recently saw a presentation by some researchers working on autonomous driving UIs where they test people in simulations of being at the wheel of an autonomous vehicle and the first big lesson they figured out is that everyone falls asleep almost immediately.

    • 0 avatar

      Not at all surprised at this finding.
      I drive a 6MT car in part because it requires driver engagement as well as being more entertaining. The more disengaged you are, the less you pay attention, get bored, etc.
      I think that the law should always be clear that you are responsible for your vehicle. It should not matter whether you are driving carefully and actively or, instead, have decided to take a nap. Your decision either way and you own the consequences.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. Your car, your responsibility. The problem with Level 2 and 3 though, is that liability will still be thrown around courtrooms like crap in a monkey cage. As the car decides it’s incapable of handling a maneuver, it basically says, “Ahhh! I can’t do it, you take over!” And the driver is thrust into a dangerous situation that they also can’t control, and then crash. So they’ll sue the manufacturer for putting them into a “dangerous” car that can’t get itself out of these scenarios that humans aren’t properly trained or prepared for. Settlements will happen left and right and a corporate push for Level 5 will be priority #1.

  • avatar

    Pssh. Until you can stop people from texting while driving 20+ year old Suburbans/Tahoes/F150s/etc (they all seem to be kept running forever around here in NorCal), don’t worry about the few thousand people driving super-new cars with much better safety features and auto-braking in city traffic, etc..

    I’ve become much more paranoid about getting rear-ended during city driving in the last few years than I ever have been (driving since ’88). Partly due to getting rear-ended (lightly, thankfully) by a distracted teenager in stop-and-go traffic on the highway a couple of years back with my family in the car.

    H was listening to music with both ears covered, checking texts WHILE driving > 40 mph. In his dad’s ’03 Camry, IIRC. These days, I see upwards of 30% of people texting/checking email when the light turns red. And many don’t stop even when they’re not stopped anymore.

    I’ve decided to try to avoid doing the same if at all possible (I have a bluetooth speaker, so I can do some things hands-free). Now if only I could get google nav to actually “start” without me allowing it to turn on the GPS by clicking by hand, I’d be in business (otherwise, seems to drain my battery super fast).

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Good points. With the average car on the road being 11 years old, we’ll be at risk from non-AV drivers for years to come.

    • 0 avatar

      This. People ALREADY have bad habits, don’t pay attention, binge eat, have “romantic interludes,” and text while driving. They are not new habits that will come with self driving cars, they are current habits of too many drivers that have no driver assistance technology.

      It is almost impossible for driver assistance tech to make driving more dangerous; any safety improvement will be better than where we are now.

      • 0 avatar

        @ Toad, errr, even NHTSA disagrees with that (and so does the FAA in their realm).

        Increases in driver distraction, probably better called “driver disinterest,” always result in more accidents, not less.

        Less attention on the road means crashes go up, including fatal ones, and we already have more driver assistance than at any point before.

        Lane Assist, Auto Braking, Blind Spot Monitor, Adaptive Cruise… these are not safety features. They are lulling drivers into a permissive state of disinterest in their surroundings. Give more “assistance” to already piss-poor drivers and they become worse drivers, not better. It’s already happening. It’s Level 5 or nothing in the long run.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    In the year 2025, if man is still alive
    If GM can survive, they may find
    Ain’t gonna need your ears, won’t need your eyes
    Your arms hangin’ limp at their sides
    Your legs got nothing to do
    Some machine’s doing that for you

    Now it’s been a hundred years
    Man has shifted a billion gears
    For what he never knew, now car’s reign is through
    But through eternal night, the twinkling of LED light
    So very far away, a 3800 still chugs away

  • avatar

    Idiocracy “My wife was a doctor, but she killed too many people. So they made her a pilot”. Reminds me of a commercial where a guy was making fun of his wife for using paper for everything instead of a tablet. So when he runs out of toilet paper and asks her for help, she sends him a picture of toilet paper.

  • avatar

    Any “self-driving” system that doesn’t let me stop paying attention is not worth much to me. That’s the whole point. Driver inputs are not fatiguing. Paying attention in heavy stop-and-go traffic is what wears you out. If you are going to watch my eyeballs and make me keep my hands on the wheel, then forget it.

    I love the emergency stop, blind spot warnings and smart cruise control features, however. I also like the idea of enhanced night vision systems. I think Cadillac has had some version of those in a heads up display.

    I would love something that keeps track of motorcyclists coming up fast while splitting lanes. They may have it coming, but I have no desire to be the one who does it.

    • 0 avatar

      An optical locator system keeping track of motorcycles, pedestrians, and bicycles would be a cool feature to offer on a car and the technology has been around for awhile.

    • 0 avatar

      @thelaine case in point is any ACC system in traffic. If you watch cars in front and all around you while letting Adaptive Cruise do its thing, even at 5-10 mph, its MORE stressful than driving yourself through the jam. You spend the whole time wondering if the cameras and sensors are seeing what you’re seeing, and ultimately your judgement would have kicked in sooner than the autobot decisions… so here you are at the edge of your seat, foot hovering over the brake and your hand a 1/4 inch off the wheel hyper-focused waiting to take control back when the computer messes up. You’re always wondering if it sees that car cutting into your lane, or the emergency braking of a tailgater three cars ahead that will effect then next 5 cars back…

      Honestly it’s easier to look away and pretend the ACC will always work and just hope for the best, because the stress of keeping yourself engaged is worse than just driving yourself.

  • avatar

    If you don’t use that part of your brain, the body will not expend the energy to maintain it. Give a person a semi-automatic transmission… sure ‘driver involvement’ is persevered, but what happens is that you end up rely on the automatic part, no ‘semi’ about it. If our cars start steering and braking for us, biology has a way of turning off the energy required to maintain that skill in our brains.

  • avatar

    What we’re going to get–and I am in no way opposed to this–is autonomy made mandatory on all new cars to the point where any crash between a self-driven car and a manually-driven one will put the blame automatically on the manual driver.

    Now, why am I not opposed? All you have to do is watch the other drivers out there any time you’re on the road. It’s become pure idiocy. Sure, most drivers seem sane but because everybody drives differently, you’ve got some few who take chances or perform sudden and unexpected maneuvers to get through traffic. Invariably, such maneuvering creates a ‘pulse’ in traffic that can take a half-hour or longer to clear. A clear example of such happened just yesterday during the afternoon rush hour that ended up causing a wreck on a major highway and jamming every parallel highway for hours, with additional fender-benders as a result. Autonomous cars would not have caused that crash and traffic flow would have been much smoother.

    However, autonomy alone isn’t the total solution. Two more things are needed and have been discussed many times in the past, with full-sized research and testing of different aspects.
    1) Inter-vehicle communications: With each car knowing what the other cars around it are doing, lane changes, merges and maneuvers to make specific highway exits, turns, etc. can now be performed even more smoothly and, as there will be no jostling for position, the overall traffic flow will be faster.
    2) Inter-networked communications with Traffic Control: Cities have major traffic control centers designed to help engineers ease traffic flow through the streets and, where possible, make sure First Responder vehicles reach any site of emergency as quickly as possible. If this system can communicate with the vehicles themselves, traffic light timing and traffic routing can be more precisely controlled, enabling automatic re-routing of the vehicles through shorter or less-traveled roads and making bypasses of emergency scenes and construction areas relatively seamless as all vehicles would know what areas to avoid.

    All told, at least for urban centers, full autonomy is a boon for both the city itself and the occupants of the vehicles as traffic flow overall will be faster, with a near-total elimination of conflicts which slow traffic.

    Inter-city travel, too, can be improved similarly. With each vehicle knowing its destination and basic inter-vehicular communications, again lane changes for passing, approaching desired exits, etc. all improves by the simple elimination of inter-vehicular conflict.

    Yes, human drivers are the almost-exclusive cause of nearly every traffic issue we experience today. Full autonomy would eliminate 99.9% of it.

    • 0 avatar

      So, I drive today and stopped at the light. Now, a big rig turning left and just can’t fit. I see that no one behind and move back 10 yards. Rig passes. Now, imagine me just sleeping in my chair…


      • 0 avatar

        @slavuta: VtoV communications would have allowed the truck to let your car know that they’d be meeting up at the intersection and that it would need an extra 10 feet of space. When your car reached the intersection, it would have stopped 10 feet short to allow the truck to turn left. The other possibility is that it might have slowed your vehicle to the point that it would have arrived at the intersection at the moment the truck finished its turn.

        A third possibility is that the truck could have been fully autonomous allowing it to make a delivery in the middle of the night to a warehouse with a robotic unloading system and you would never have seen it. Then again, you might be the warehouse guy that the robot replaced and would have no need to travel to work and to further complicate matters your autonomous car repossessed itself long ago. See, technology is really a wonderful thing!

    • 0 avatar

      Oh man the anguish of rubberneckers unable to engage in thier favorite sport is absolutely tasty!

    • 0 avatar

      Given the history of the ease of manipulation and lack of reliability it is a bit puzzling to see such a deep level of belief in OEM integrated software. Shoot, look at the struggles with infotainment systems over the last decade. I’m not sold on the idea that everything will be as seamless as you portray. I’m not saying that the technology isnt there, but OEMs have a track record of pushing out cheap cookie cutter parts to improve their bottom line.

  • avatar

    “Repeat after me and remember – Genesis is Skynet”

  • avatar

    Riding horses to work was fun!

  • avatar

    How about autonomous traffic lights first?

    How many times have you waited in front of a red light and the perpendicular direction has no traffic at all? This should be easier and cheaper to implement and more effective to improve traffic throughput.

    • 0 avatar

      If they aren’t already here we have something close enough. When I go to work occasionally at 4am the lights at the intersection just outside my neighborhood will accommodate drivers as they approach the light if traffic isn’t heavy and the light cycles at several intersections around the city do the same.

      When I visit my mom’s home town I notice the difference since it doesn’t have more modern traffic control the lights are longer and you get dinged with the light cycle with no traffic.

      Also noticed that in a few spots out in the mid and southwest.

      • 0 avatar

        That type of control for traffic signals has been around for years. But don’t count on it sticking around. Our town upgraded all signals throughout the neighborhood. They have eliminated that feature you describe. Imagine the annoyance at being at a red light at 5:15 in the morning with no traffic around you and the light refuses to change. I contacted the town about all these lights the are on dumb timer cycles. The official response was it was for traffic “calming” purposes. Frankly it does just the opposite. Drivers quickly figured this out and those intersections with “junk” red lights simply cause people to punch the gas before it changes or run it after they stop. And at five in the morning that is exactly what I do. If you want to modify human behavior without first understanding human behavior you are doomed to fail.

        • 0 avatar

          No cop visible (or other vehicles which could be one in a plain wrapper)? Check!

          No other impediments, pedestrians, etc.? Check!

          No scameras at the intersection posing as cops, saying “some of your money are belong to an Aussie syndicate under the ‘safety’ pretense?” Nope. Check!

          One last check both ways, then move foot from brake to throttle, and proceed through the intersection and on with your day!

          No biggie!

  • avatar

    Full level 4-5 self-driving will no doubt greatly reduce traffic accidents, particularly among those from recent generations that have grown up with smart phones and social media and can’t go 5 minutes without checking Facebook, etc. The level 2-3 stuff that is out now is likely to be the big problem, because too many idiots will decide they can text, sleep, Skype, etc. while the car does “most” of the driving. I expect most automakers would prefer to avoid offering level 2-3 systems due to liability concerns, but the strong desire of many consumers to avoid driving will put them at a competitive disadvantage if they don’t. Similarly, if they equip their systems with too many “safety” features that force driver/riders to “pay attention” to the road, they will also be at a competitive disadvantage to brands that offer more “freedom”.

    • 0 avatar

      Had an Accord Hybrid with the lane-assist earlier this year, and a couple times, it did threaten to shut down if I didn’t grab the wheel. My hand was resting comfortably on the bottom rim.

      What do I need, a death-grip? (Might as well drive in the right lane doing 15-under, eyes wide as saucers, while I’m at it!)

  • avatar

    “The school conducted research for an automaker concerned with how people use blind-spot detection systems — finding a significant increase in drivers failing to look over their shoulder to check for themselves when changing lanes.”

    No need for blind-spot detection or looking over one’s shoulder when changing lanes. Why aren’t we taught to adjust our side view mirrors for, maybe, the side views? Side view mirrors should be adjusted outward to take up where the rear view mirror leaves off. Voila! No blind spot.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Is the root cause of most collisions not driver error?
    Is distracted driving not a growing problem?
    Are there still impaired drivers on the roads, killing people?
    Is traffic congestion not a growing problem, particularly in urban areas?

    So then would the logical solution not be to try as much as possible to eliminate the weakest aspect, that being the driver ‘human’.

    As for the ‘driving experience’. Those on this site are here because we enjoy it. But the vast majority of those driving or riding in vehicles could not care less. For them driving is a chore.

    The American Graffiti generation is dying out. How many people/families take a Sunday drive for enjoyment? How many teenagers still get in their car with their friends and just drive around for fun? How many kids still look out the window of their parents car for fun?

    Time to own up to the fact that we are old, out of date and being overtaken by technology.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    Plus it’s fairly easy to fool the computer to think that a stop sign is something completely different:

  • avatar

    With nearly 800,000 miles driven in my life I’ve had 3 collisions. Admittedly I live in what most would describe as a rural area. Only one collision was is an urban area. I’ve learned I need to be constantly aware of what is going on around me. I always look down the road a half mile or more so I can anticipate future issues. In town I’m looking 3 blocks ahead for the same reason. I’m somewhat unsettled on autonomous vehicles. I can see the benefit, but I think I lean more toward the thought of the use it or lose it folks. I think I would prefer to remain engaged as opposed to not being so.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s what the Hyundai video made me think of – the inability of the car to see beyond the car in front of them. They can’t notice (yet) that the car 3 ahead is heavy on the brakes or wobbling in the lane (drunk or tired). When that car does something dumb, the computer can’t anticipate anything. And if your tires are worn or there is a slick spot, you autonomous car might just nail the car in front of it.

      I prefer not to rely so heavily on brakes. I prefer the anticipate problems due to being able to see the driving of the cars ahead. Also, I know that older asphalt might not deliver as much traction as newer, smoother asphalt so I increase the distance between me and the car head, I also slow down in turns.

      I’m glad that the masses with have cars (machines) to think for them while the driver and passengers pacify themselves with their smart phones.

      I think it’ll be a while before I’m ready to give up driving. I have the same problem on airplanes. I’m not a pilot and can’t fly a plane – but I’m still sitting there hoping the pilot is good at his job, and isn’t stoned or drunk or tired. Consequently I’ve flow once since the mid-90s. I never enjoyed the flying process (airports, human cattle management systems) anyhow.

  • avatar
    V-Strom rider

    Level 4 and 5 cars will dramatically reduce crashes, no doubt, especially when they become ubiquitous. Level 2 and 3 are fundamentally flawed because they lull drivers into a false sense of security while expecting them to be fully alert and poised to take control. Never going to work.

    It’s like suggesting you set a timer to remind you to do something but then expecting you to check your watch every couple of minutes in case the timer doesn’t work. That approach willfully ignores real-world human behaviour.

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