Last week we investigated the impacts autonomous vehicles will have on driver licensing.
This week, we have invited a close friend of Transmax, Russell White, the founder of the Australian Road Safety Foundation and Managing Director of Driver Safety Australia, to add his insights into this complex and emerging field… Take it away Russell….
A number of years ago, a retiring Special Forces commander was being interviewed for a television program and he was asked the following question: “Are you concerned that your troops are becoming too technologically dependent?”
His response was, “ Yes, because if for some reason that technology fails or isn’t available, then they have no base skill to fall back on.’
Keep in mind, we are talking about disciplined military personnel here. So if this would be an issue for troops of that calibre, what would the impact be on a lesser specialised group such as drivers and road users?
New driver assistance systems are continuing to be developed by the automotive industry and it’s clear that they can provide many benefits. These systems now include anti-lock braking systems, traction support systems, adaptive cruise control, lane departure assistance, autonomous braking, blind spot warning systems and the list goes on.
Autonomous vehicles with very advanced technology are impressive but still have critical limitations.
The videos from the previous article show a driver in the USA using an auto pilot system and not being fully engaged in the driving task itself. But it demonstrated that regardless of the tech, the vehicle still managed to leave the road in heavy rain conditions.
And how did the “driver” respond or attempt to correct this situation? Panicked, froze and shouted: “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god……….and I just crashed.”
Autonomous vehicles may one day provide great road safety benefits, but the complexity of the road environment presents, and will continue to present, significant challenges.
Whilst these systems may provide a benefit in one area, they may also introduce an unintended consequence in another. This could especially be the case during the fleet transitional period as vehicles with the newer systems start to be added to the traffic mix and integrating with less well equipped older vehicles.
Also, we will still need to consider the human factor impacts and the human to vehicle interface of these systems.
We will need to look at issues such as:
These need consideration and will need to be factored into areas such as driver licencing and driver training.
Interestingly, it currently appears that there is very limited incorporation of these new technologies in the driver training or licencing. There is either a level of total ignorance about these systems or a view that the car will fix everything.
As a result, the vast majority of the public has little or no real understanding of these new systems and how to utilise them. For example, experience with post-licence training has revealed that the vast majority of participants don’t know what an ABS system does even though this system has been around for a number of decades and is now fitted on the majority of vehicles.
An advanced automotive systems manufacturer suggested to me recently that drivers will require more training not less as more of these new systems come on line.
There is a need to undertake more research into the process of driver development and develop a more holistic approach to driver education as a life-long process. There is also a need to look at incorporating a stronger focus on overall vehicle dynamics and the benefits of modern driver assistance systems into the training of all drivers.
Autonomous vehicle safety technology will continue to be a game changer. But the broader question relates to how we best facilitate and manage that change.
Whilst these systems may one day fix many of our current road safety problems, the bottom line is that we can’t just wait for that day to arrive.
It’s important that we don’t take our eye of the ball in road safety terms and we continue to build on all our current road safety efforts.
But equally, the opportunity is also there to break the shackles of our current paradigm when it comes to training, education and road user development. We will need to focus on creating drivers that are technically astute, not technologically dependent.