What Will Happen When Your Driverless Car Crashes?

What Will Happen When Your Driverless Car Crashes?

Driverless cars are nearly here, at least if Google has its way. But what happens when we’re all zipping around, hands-and-feet free, nary a care in the world, and BAM! we’re in a terrible accident?

Who’s responsible? And perhaps more importantly, will we make any attempts to stop it? When something goes awry and it looks like you’re about to crash head-on with an 18-wheeler, what will you do?

Back in 1999, Dutch researchers studied how people might react during the threat of an accident on the automated highways of tomorrow. They were interested in the issue because back in the 1990s the driverless cars of the future were just around the corner (sound familiar?), thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in the technology by the U.S. Congress.

The Dutch researchers found during their simulations that roughly half of the people they studied tried to take control of the vehicle. The other half seemed to trust that their robot chauffeur would prevail and lead them to safety, despite all evidence to the contrary.

From the 1999 study:

In the emergency situation, only half of the participants took over control, which supports the idea that [Automated Highway System] as any automation, is susceptible to complacency.

Of course, driving a simulator is vastly different than when you’re out on the real open road. But will we find any difference on the highways of tomorrow? Honestly, the way most people drive on the Pacific Highway, we’re probably better off letting Google take the wheel even if it means a few bruised fenders.

Image: scanned from the 1981 book The Future World of Transportation by Valerie Moolman