As the autonomous-vehicle technology continues to improve with more testing locations popping up worldwide, many seem to think that driverless cars are about to take over the roads. However, at least two major car manufacturers still remain more concerned about none other than the human driver. 

Dietmar Exler, chief executive of Mercedes-Benz USA, is worried that humans will “bully” driverless cars. 

Last fall at AutoConference LA in Los Angeles, Exler said human drivers already speed, drive erratically and cut in line. Driverless cars will be programmed to be polite and follow the law. Human drivers usually don’t allow others trying to cut in line at a traffic merge. 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.

The Swedish automaker Volvo shares the same concern about bullying. That is why the automaker plans to keep its early fleet of test vehicles in London unmarked so that they don’t look any different from a normal Volvo car. The first 100 Volvo vehicles to be tested on London’s main roads in 2018 will not stand out from the crowd, said Erik Coelingh, senior technical leader at Volvo Cars. “I’m pretty sure that people will challenge them if they are marked by doing really harsh braking in front of a self-driving car or putting themselves in the way,” he said.

Recently, the London School of Economics examined how human drivers might behave toward self-driving cars in a survey of 12,000 respondents in 11 European countries. Study findings showed that people who were classified as more “combative” in their aggressive driving seemed to welcome the idea of self-driving cars on the road more than “cooperative” drivers who saw driving as a social experience shared with other drivers. The researchers say that a successful introduction of autonomous vehicles “will ultimately depend on understanding and addressing the complex attitudes that define the public’s view of this new technology.”

For insurers this means, while we consider the implications of self-driving vehicles on our industry, it is not yet time to dismiss the most important liability: the human driver. 

One response:

  1. While autonomous vehicle technical is certainly revolutionary and –– under proper conditions –– will dramatically reduce the number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities on our roadways, one basic reality we’ll continue to deal with is this: people can be jerks. And as can easily be seen on Facebook, Twitter, and in blog comment sections, technology does not reduce people’s tendencies to be jerks. In fact, technology can have an amplifying effect of people’s natural jerkiness.

    During the next decade or so, as self-driving cars make inroads onto our roads, there will be a backlash from some of the more anti-technology minded members of our society –– never mind the fact that most cars out on the highways most use of massive amounts of computer technology simply to get around. And this backlash will likely manifest itself during odd moments of roadrage against autonomous vehicles. Myself, I’m also fully expecting various forms of vandalism to take place against self driving vehicles, along with the creation of anti-self-driving car groups and organizations, and possibly –– possibly –– some narrow minded legislation, designed to reduce, restrict, or eliminate autonomous cars from specific towns and regions and roadways and neighborhoods.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *