Tuesday, 31 July 2018 17:54

As Automation Expands, Driver Error Persists

Written by Jeff Soble and Katlin C. Cravatta, Wards Auto


A 2015 NHTSA report estimates that 94 percent of vehicle crashes are the result of driver error.

Alarmingly, an earlier NHTSA report states that vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children of every age from 2 to 14 years old.


While many expect increased automation and autonomous driving systems to reduce the amount of driver error, recent events demonstrate that such a world is still a long way off.


On May 24, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its preliminary report concerning the March 18 incident in Tempe, AZ, in which a pedestrian was struck and killed by a Volvo XC90 SUV equipped with self-driving capabilities. The vehicle was part of Uber’s autonomous vehicle pilot program, which was suspended by the governor of Arizona following the incident.


According to the NTSB, the vehicle’s systems identified the pedestrian, but the vehicle’s emergency braking system had been disabled to prevent conflict with other self-driving systems and to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.


Although the system was not designed to alert the operator, the driver was expected to apply the brakes when needed. In this instance, the driver was looking at the vehicle’s display screen and failed to apply the brakes in time.


In other words, even when the vehicle is driving with some level of autonomy, drivers are expected to stay alert and take control when necessary to avoid accidents.


Many anticipate that vehicle automation systems will curb driver error. In turn, it is expected that the liability trend for vehicle crashes will involve movement away from driver-assigned errors and toward system-assigned or design-assigned errors.


That may likely prove true, but current partial-automation systems work only when drivers continue to pay attention to the road and do not rely on such systems without thought.


Even as vehicles progress toward full automation, and even as the societal benefits of such technologies are realized, recent events remind us that we are not there yet. The long-standing threat of driver error remains present.


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