Increasingly automated cars are making drivers complacent, researchers have found as they warned that learners’ lessons should be updated.
A report by the University of Nottingham found drivers who got into semi-automated cars without training tended to be ‘overly optimistic’ about the vehicle’s abilities, leading to ‘dangerous’ driving.
They concluded that drivers should be given more in depth training than just reading the vehicle manual before getting behind the wheel of cars that can take control to the point where drivers are allowed to take their eyes off the road.
The report comes as autonomous cars that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel to text or watch a film could be on British roads as soon as next year.
While fully driverless vehicles are still years away from being allowed in the UK, cars will become incrementally more autonomous and take over more roles from human drivers in the intervening years.
The Government is currently consulting on allowing Level 3 Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) to be deployed in UK vehicles, meaning the car would be able take control of driving on straight roads such as motorways, aided by distance sensors monitoring traffic in front and in the rear.
Currently, Level 2 ALKS is permitted in the UK and is already in models such as the latest Teslas, but under this system the driver has to keep their eyes on the road at all times.
In the Nottingham study, researchers simulated Level 3 autonomous driving with 24 motorists. Half were given the standard vehicle manual before the simulation and the other half more in depth training on the car’s autonomous capabilities as well as the checks they should perform before handing over and taking back control .
The results showed that 90 percent of the drivers with the additional training made the correct mirror checks and spotted hazards, such as a tailgating vehicle behind, before handing over to the car’s autonomous system, compared to just 23 percent of those with the manual.
Researchers warned the drivers who just used the manual tended to “over-rely” on the car’s automated system “expecting it to deal with events for which it is neither intended nor capable.”
The report added: “These drivers may make overly optimistic assumptions about the capability of the automation, leading to unacceptable or dangerous behaviour.”
Emily Shaw, lead author, said under the current system, motorists who had been trained for purely manual driving would be deemed competent at handling automated vehicles just with instructions from their dealer and the car’s operating manual.
She added: “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.”
The RAC Foundation, which funded the research, said it demonstrated the need to update the way learners are taught to drive.
Director Steve Gooding said: “Given that the driving test was revamped to include candidates being guided by a satnav, further change seems inevitable to help new drivers understand what cars can and cannot do in a world of semi-automation, where one moment the car is in control and the next it’s back to them.
“But based on the pace at which this tech is being developed, it’s clear we’re going to need those changes sooner rather than later.
“The bigger challenge is how best to inform the 40 million or so licence holders who aren’t expecting to have to take another test.”
Mr Gooding suggested that manufacturers could design the infotainment systems of cars so they “coach us on what we need to know in order to drive them safely”.
He added: “In future we’re likely to need more than a handshake and cheery wave from our car dealerships if we are to drive away safely in cars offering ever-higher degrees of automation short of fully-driverless models.”