Industry urged to help educate drivers

The ceo of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation has called on the insurance industry to help educate drivers about automated vehicle technology in the face of misconceptions about its capabilities and limitations.

“We have an important window of opportunity to educate drivers before these vehicles become widely available,” Robyn Robertson told Thompson’s following the release of a report that found some drivers plan to pay less attention to the road while driving a semi- or fully-automated vehicle.

“This underscores that the dialogue around automated vehicles that has been directed at consumers has not clearly distinguished the differences between semi- and fully-automated vehicles,” she said. “As a result, drivers may not understand the differences in the role of the driver in each of these vehicles.”

TIRF said a poll of more than 2,600 Canadians, conducted in May in partnership with the Toyota Canada Foundation, found that almost one of every six respondents said they believed they would not have to be attentive when driving a semi-automated vehicle and would not have to be prepared to take control of it unexpectedly.

And some drivers reported they would be more willing to take risks when using a semi- automated vehicle.

Almost 25% of drivers said they would drive tired or fatigued, and 17% would engage in a non-driving activity such as texting, reading or working more than they do now.

The researchers found 10% of drivers indicated that they would be more willing to sleep or nap behind the wheel.

And 9% would be more willing to drink and drive.

TIRF has released a report stemming from the poll, titled ‘Automated Vehicles: Driver knowledge, attitudes and practices,’ that says it is incumbent on manufacturers to be cautious in marketing automated features and demonstrate due diligence to protect the safety of consumers who purchase their products.

It says younger male drivers have demonstrated greater acceptance of and trust in self-driving vehicles as compared to other age categories and were more willing to rely on these vehicles to drive.

“This means that there is evidence that early adopters of SDVs may be more representative of drivers who are less safety-conscious and more crash- involved,” the report said.

Conversely, older drivers and women were much more reticent and less likely to rely on SDVs until the level of safety offered by these vehicles is more concretely demonstrated in real-world conditions.

The TIRF said there is also clear evidence that the ability of drivers to turn off technology designed to improve safety will influence the size of crash reductions that are ultimately achieved.

“At least a proportion of drivers will want to turn off automated features, and thereby potentially turn off safety.”

Ms. Robertson said it will be critical that drivers understand the differences before purchasing and driving semi- or fully-automated vehicles and it is important to understand that fleet turnover will take at least a decade or more.

“This means that sustained education will be much needed to ensure that not only the early adopters are knowledgeable, but also the late adopters.

“I think that the technology in these vehicles will change and evolve much more quickly, so it will be equally imperative that drivers keep pace with the changes and are able to interact with it in ways that promote safety and do not unintentionally undermine it.”

While the report calls on manufacturers to exercise caution in promoting the new technologies, it says the insurance industry and government must do their part.

“Government also plays an important role to ensure responsibility in advertising and to raise public awareness about ways that new vehicles are tested and made available to consumers.”

It says transparency regarding how safety standards are set and met is crucial for drivers to make informed purchasing decisions.

The TIRF report says drivers’ initial experiences with SDVs will have “profound implications for widespread uptake and use, and targeted education to ensure that early adopters are well-informed about the limitations of technology is paramount.”