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‘Out of the Loop’: Can AD Make Us Worse Drivers?


Autonomous technology is rapidly evolving, with vehicles capable of using self-driving functions expected to be available on the market over the next few years. Recent research conducted by the University of Nottingham suggests that autonomous driving functions may actually cause slower response times, leading to worse driving.

The study involved 49 randomly selected participants driving a simulator for half an hour everyday, for five consecutive days. Participants would begin driving the car manually and would be given the chance to switch to the autonomous functions once the car reached a dual motorway. After 20 minutes, the participants were told that they needed to drive manually again and were given a 60 second ‘prepare to drive’ notification.

Researchers found that the participants drove significantly worse once taking back control of the car – with them swerving across lanes and varying their speed during the first 10 seconds following the handover. On the first day, participants went off course by an average of two metres. Although driving improved over the course of the week, one thing researchers noted was that drivers became more complacent. They noticed that towards the end of the week drivers even looked at their feet to make sure that they were on the right pedals before beginning the takeover. A major concern is that the drivers are likely to become ‘out-of-the-loop’, meaning that they have not been required to actively monitor, make decisions about or provide physical inputs during the driving task. Another issue researchers identified was drivers not being able to take back control of the car during the case of an emergency. During the study, over 80% of drivers used their mobile phones, read, applied make-up or slept during the autonomous portion.

Researchers suggest that new driver training and skills will be needed once cars with an intermediate level of autonomy are rolled out in the coming years in order to ensure safer driving. RAC foundation director Steve Gooding said “If conditionally automated vehicles are to be allowed on to the public road then their designers are going to have to apply their minds to the circumstances where drivers will be invited – or required – to retake control. The very real likelihood that, at best, those drivers will need plenty of warning to set down their papers or close their laptop computer and, at worst, still more time to wake from slumber. Retaking control of a speeding car is a dangerous task, and the idea of the human driver being available to take over in an emergency looks to be fraught with difficulty.”

Read more about the ‘out-of-the-loop’ phenomenon here.


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