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Drivers may need behavioural training to cope with autonomous vehicles

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Drivers may need behavioural training to help them adapt to the forthcoming introduction of driverless cars, a new study by the University of Nottingham suggests.

Researchers from the University’s Human Factors Research Group studied two groups of experienced drivers in a high-fidelity driving simulator to observe their behaviour while ‘driving’ a car with level 3 automation.

The study found that drivers who received behavioural training were more measured in their behaviour and better understood the car’s capabilities and limitations.

They were also significantly more likely to notice a potential hazard during the transition from automated to manual driving, made more measured decisions in lane-change manoeuvres shortly after taking back manual control, and checked their mirrors more frequently, even while the car was driving autonomously.

Emily Shaw, lead author, said: “To date, driver training for automated vehicles is no different to that provided for manual vehicles.

“The assumption being that prior manual-vehicle training and experience, alongside instruction from the dealer and/or the vehicle’s operating manual, is more than sufficient.

“However, the introduction of intermediate levels of automation into vehicles means that the driving task is shared between the driver and system, fundamentally changing the role of the driver.”

Some cars on the road at present are equipped with what are known as levels 1 and 2 vehicle automation. This means several simultaneous activities, which assist steering or acceleration, are partially automated including lane centring, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning and automatic emergency braking.

But at level 3, automation capability extends to the monitoring task, allowing drivers to switch their attention towards non-driving-related tasks.

This level of automation will still require the human driver to remain responsible for the vehicle’s actions and must be ready to intervene in the event of a system failure or where the boundary of the automated system’s operational design has been reached.

Dr David R Large, Senior Research Fellow with the Human Factors Research Group at the University of Nottingham, said: “While future vehicles will deliver more automation than ever before, these vehicles are likely to remain visually the same as the current cars we are used to, and therefore may not present an obvious step-change in development.

“Drivers, as well as those responsible for delivering driver training – and indeed, those who manufacture and sell these vehicles – may therefore be forgiven for assuming that no new skills are required to use them.

“However, this research clearly shows there is a lot of work to be done around preparing drivers for this next stage of automation. Without this, drivers are more likely to form inaccurate or inappropriate mental models of automation capability and competence, which can lead to misuse or incorrect use of driving automation.”

In August, the UK government launched a consultation that could pave the way to driverless cars being introduced on British roads as early as next year.

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