Nissan's head of automated driving, Tetsuya Lijima, sits at the controls of a modified Nissan Leaf, driverless car, during its London demonstration

Entertainment distractions in driverless vehicles could pose a danger on British roads

Image credit: Reuters

Driverless cars could be a danger on British roads because motorists may be encouraged to read, check emails or watch a film at the wheel, peers have warned.

The House of Lords raised concerns about people becoming too reliant on technology and failing to react fast enough while using a semi-automated vehicle.

Professor Neville Stanton from the University of Southampton said there are significant concerns about vehicles that require drivers to take over in an emergency.

“As vehicles become fully autonomous, even the most observant human driver’s attention will begin to wane,” he told peers.

“Their mind will wander, and they may start to mentally switch off from the job of driving.

“This is particularly true if they are engaging in other activities such as reading, answering emails, engaged in conversations with passengers, watching movies or surfing the internet.”

The Lords Science and Technology Committee found that it is not yet clear if driverless cars would reduce accidents caused by human error.

“The government should give priority to commissioning and encouraging research studying behavioural questions and ensure it is an integral part of any trials it funds,” the committee stated in its report.

Peers also said industries such as farming are most likely to benefit and that Parliament should not be distracted by “media attention around driverless cars”.

A recent study calculated the exact length of time needed for a driver to switch from automated vehicle control to manual vehicle control in order to ensure maximum safety. 

Google has expressed a desire to do away with the steering wheel altogether in its autonomous vehicles. Although regulations in California, where its vehicles are currently being tested, mandate that all autonomous vehicles must have a steering wheel in case something goes wrong, a stipulation that Google has protested against

Stan Boland, CEO with FiveAI, which develops autonomous vehicle software, said: “Increased safety is perhaps the biggest benefit of AVs, and we are in agreement with the (House of Lords) committee that the future lies in developing ‘Level 5’ autonomous vehicles, i.e. vehicles that require no human supervision or control whatsoever.

“For lower levels of autonomy where the driving task is shared between a human driver and the vehicle, studies have shown that humans quickly become over-confident with the vehicle’s abilities, which can lead to incidents. With human error currently responsible for over 90 per cent of incidents on our roads, eliminating human control from the driving task means that fully autonomous vehicles will make our towns and cities safer, cleaner, and quicker and easier to travel in.”

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