Automated vehicles — commonly called self-driving — will increasingly be found on North American streets over the next few years, and a new study suggests Canadians aren’t quite ready for the new wave of technology.
A national survey by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) finds that Canadians are not only split on embracing vehicle automation, they’re downright nervous.
“On one side you’ve got about 40 per cent of the public who believe that they can hop into a self-driving vehicle and have sufficient knowledge, everything’s good,” said Stephen Beatty, vice president of Toyota Canada. The TIRF study was funded by the automaker.
“You’ve got another 40 per cent on the other side who say, ‘that would be very stressful for me.’
“And then you’ve got 20 (per cent) in the middle who are going, ‘I think I need to learn more.’ And they’re the wise 20 per cent because vehicle automation is coming very rapidly and everyone needs to know more.”
In January Ontario launched a 10-year pilot program testing automated vehicles. The province cites minimized driver error among the reasons for the tests.
Driver error is responsible for more than 90 per cent of road crashes, the study states, which has prompted the development of new technologies designed to help mitigate such error. This has led to increasingly sophisticated design, which has brought us to semi and fully autonomous vehicles.
“Today, technology is advancing more quickly than our knowledge of how people will interact with and react to them,” states the TIRF study analyzing the survey results.
Beatty says many drivers will be thrown a curveball when they first drive an automated vehicle.
“It’s really important that we not put you as a driver in a situation where you think that you can just hop into a car and drive it away and everything will just come to you as you’re driving it down the road,” said Beatty.
“It just doesn’t work that way.”
Clearing up basic misconceptions will be a major hurdle as the vehicles become more common. You can’t drink and drive, take a nap or read. Self-driving cars, at least in their current design, still require an attentive driver prepared to take over at any time.
Of survey respondents, “concerning proportions” indicated they were more likely to drive an automated car while drowsy, distracted or under the influence of alcohol.
A fifth of respondents said they would disengage self-driving features in order to drive faster in poor conditions, and 14 per cent said they would do so in order to run a red light.
Along with the human concerns are the technological quirks still being ironed out.
“Despite their potential benefits, automated vehicles currently possess a number of limitations that technology has not yet been able to overcome,” the study states.
Self-driving capabilities are not always able to function in challenging road conditions or environments, or in poor weather. The technology also lacks the ability to make ethical decisions.
“Most notably, these vehicles are ill-prepared to react to ‘the unexpected’, which may happen on the road every day,” said the study.
A vehicle’s unexpected reaction to such situations could spell disaster for an unprepared driver.
“The last thing you want is to have your first experience with advanced tech in the middle of an emergency,” said Beatty.