There are currently billions of dollars being spent on developing autonomous vehicles (AVs), with companies such as Uber, Tesla, Waymo, Ford and General Motors investing in the industry. In areas such as Arizona, Tokyo, the UK and Scandinavia autonomous vehicles are already being trialled and are even driving on public roads.
Hyundai Motor Group have suggested that we will have widespread use of autonomous vehicles on our motorways, highways and local roads driving fully autonomously by 2030. Whilst safety is a huge concern for human driven and autonomous vehicles, we also need to think about other ways in which autonomous vehicles will affect the roads. An increasing concern in the mobility sector, is whether AV’s rigorous safety features; which are needed for them to travel safely, will in turn lead them to be taken advantage of, or even bullied on the roads?
When an autonomous vehicle is driving, some of its key features and advantages are the advanced and extensive technology they hold on board, which creates a heightened awareness of potential hazards, as well as their strict ‘law abiding’ driving style. These features will, in turn, will lead to a reduction in vehicle accidents. For example, if a car is pulling into the lane of the autonomous vehicle, if a car is getting too close in general or wants to cut into a queue, the AV is programmed to avoid collision, slow down or do whatever it can to prevent a crash.
Whilst this is a great feature, it will also potentially lead to human drivers driving in an aggressive or erratic manner in order to take advantage of these embedded safety features for their own benefit. At a junction, a human driver could pull out in front of an autonomous vehicle or cut them up on a roundabout because they know the automatic safety response of that car will be to avoid the human driver; forcing them into submission. Furthermore, this problem could extend to cyclists or pedestrians who could for example cross the road in front of an AV as they know it will stop.
This behaviour will lead to delays for autonomous vehicles, longer travel times as well as disgruntled and frustrated passengers. This more aggressive driving style could also lead to a potential increase in crashes if the AVs have nowhere safe to move to, or if human drivers mistake a manned car for an AV, which would not have the same automatic response to get out of the way.
So how do we solve the problem? Do we program autonomous vehicles to have a slightly higher level of assertiveness whilst driving? This could however lead to more safety concerns. Do we leave AVs unmarked, so they are not recognised as an easy target on the road? Do we introduce more penalties for human drivers who intimidate AVs to prevent the aggressive driving style?
There is no clear solution at this stage. However, if level 5 AVs are to be rolled out worldwide in the next 10 years, this is a problem that needs addressing to ensure autonomous vehicles and human drivers can share the road in a safe, fair and efficient way.
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