Please Don’t Bully Autonomous Cars

Stop the bullying. Self-driving cars could potentially be the target of road bullies, but that's not what's bothering Automologi...

Stop the bullying.
Self-driving cars could potentially be the target of road bullies, but that's not what's bothering Automologist MAC the most.

A report in the UK’s Observer seems to think that Britain’s first self-driving cars will be unmarked due to fears that aggressive drivers will take advantage of the vehicles' impeccable manners, and bully them.

From 2018, Volvo plans to start leasing vehicles to ‘ordinary’ Brits who are capable of driving an autonomous car. These vehicles will seem to be standard Volvo's with no indication that they are being driven by a computer, apparently, just to be on the safe side, and thus avoid the chance that other road users would react differently to them. Of course it would be fun to test the theory and have a few that are in fact marked in a way to test other road users' reactions, but at this stage all will be incognito. Volvo's technical director, Erik Coelingh, is convinced that there will be at least some drivers on the British roads who will take advantage of the autonomous vehicles by cutting in front of them, safe in the knowledge that the self-driving vehicles will avoid a collision at all costs. You may think that Erik is being paranoid but a recent survey report carried out by the London School of Economics and Goodyear seems to indicate that there could be a problem indeed. (Read the report at http://www.thinkgoodmobility.goodyear.eu/the-survey).

One of the advantages of self-driving vehicles is just how they stick to the rules of the road, which is where the disadvantage may come in as the study found that at least some drivers intend to bully autonomous drivers once they hit the roads, by driving aggressively around them assuming that they will in fact stop and let the bully through. There is logic to the theory as well - imagine two cars at a junction, one human-driven the other machine-operated; the self-driving car has right of way yet the human takes off anyway; the self-driving car is programmed to protect its occupants and thus will give way to avoid a collision.

The survey found that 41% of the 12,000 people polled throughout Europe would be nervous to drive alongside an autonomous vehicle and 44% would not get into one. Conversely, 29% were comfortable driving next to one and 26% of getting into one; the rest couldn’t make up their minds. Even though it will be very many years before self-driving cars are a common feature on the roads of the world - despite the likes of Google, Uber and even Tesla working towards that goal - it would appear that from both the technical standpoint and the social perspective as well, there is much work to do.

 Just one question that so many people seem to be uncomfortable with is the dilemma over what value should the technology put on a human life? For instance, in the case of a potential crash, should the priority be protecting the passengers or pedestrian? I am sure there are many other issues to resolve as well but right now this is the one that is keeping me up at night.

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