As the autonomous-vehicle technology continues to improve with more testing locations popping up worldwide, many seem to think that driverless cars are about to take over the roads. However, at least two major car manufacturers still remain more concerned about none other than the human driver.
Dietmar Exler, chief executive of Mercedes-Benz USA, is worried that humans will “bully” driverless cars.
Last fall at AutoConference LA in Los Angeles, Exler said human drivers already speed, drive erratically and cut in line. Driverless cars will be programmed to be polite and follow the law. Human drivers usually don’t allow others trying to cut in line at a traffic merge. But a driverless car will be programmed to stop when it sees an obstruction — like a line cutter. “They’ll look for the autonomous car and that’s where they’ll cut in,” Exler said.
The Swedish automaker Volvo shares the same concern about bullying. That is why the automaker plans to keep its early fleet of test vehicles in London unmarked so that they don’t look any different from a normal Volvo car. The first 100 Volvo vehicles to be tested on London’s main roads in 2018 will not stand out from the crowd, said Erik Coelingh, senior technical leader at Volvo Cars. “I’m pretty sure that people will challenge them if they are marked by doing really harsh braking in front of a self-driving car or putting themselves in the way,” he said.
Recently, the London School of Economics examined how human drivers might behave toward self-driving cars in a survey of 12,000 respondents in 11 European countries. Study findings showed that people who were classified as more “combative” in their aggressive driving seemed to welcome the idea of self-driving cars on the road more than “cooperative” drivers who saw driving as a social experience shared with other drivers. The researchers say that a successful introduction of autonomous vehicles “will ultimately depend on understanding and addressing the complex attitudes that define the public’s view of this new technology.”
For insurers this means, while we consider the implications of self-driving vehicles on our industry, it is not yet time to dismiss the most important liability: the human driver.