40% of Belgian drivers see no benefit in autonomous car
Four out of ten Belgians see no benefit at all in fully autonomous cars, according to a survey conducted by Vias among 1.000 people. This is a slight increase compared to 2017, which, according to the traffic institute, is due to the over-mediatization of accidents in the United States involving autonomous cars.
Believers and non-believers
Autonomous vehicles are classified in categories from 1 to 5, with category 5 being vehicles that can drive entirely independently without the intervention or supervision of a human driver.
Believers indicate that such vehicles will be a reality in 2035; moderate sources argue that it will not happen before 2050. Such vehicles do indeed often appear in the media when something goes wrong, which fuels criticism.
The research also shows that 28% of the respondents would rather not put their fate in the hands of a computer. Especially older drivers (55+) appear to be more stubborn in this respect. The ethical question which victim (animal, child, or adult) the computer will ‘choose’ in an unavoidable collision is of less concern to Belgians (10%).
The main advantage is that such vehicles are safer. 18% of Belgians indicate that they believe they will be involved in fewer accidents. That used to be 23% in 2017. 40% of the respondents do not see any benefit in this technology, compared to only 37% three years ago. Losing the personal freedom of driving seems to be the main drawback. Walloons tend to be more pessimistic than Flemish people in this.
Why is this confidence shrinking? According to Karin Genoe, CEO of Vias, accidents with autonomous vehicles are in the news too often, and a ‘positive’ media campaign is needed. “Several projects involving Vias Institute will be launched in the coming months to demonstrate the benefits of autonomous vehicles for road safety and mobility,” she states.
Accident statistics today indicate that human error (of the driver or another road user) is at the root of most car accidents. Computers can also make mistakes, but, according to specialists and insurance companies, less often than people. In this sense, one could say that autonomous vehicles will be statistically safer, but not infallible.
Experience with driver assistance systems
One aspect that did not feature in the study is the lack of experience of motorists with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Modern vehicles already have systems that depart themselves, keep a distance from the car in front, make steering adjustments within the lane, or even make an emergency stop.
Such systems are the building bricks of an autonomous car because the synthesis of all that technology is close to what the autonomous car will become. Unfortunately, today, such systems still make mistakes.
For example, an unnecessary emergency stop, because the unit has not been calibrated accurately enough or because the environment the car is driving in is insufficiently uniform. Systems that do not always and everywhere react in the same way erode the driver’s confidence in handing over his fate…
Who is steering?
Recently, the Dutch Safety Board came to the remarkable conclusion that those advanced driver assistance systems can make driving sometimes more dangerous than safe. It has published the report ‘Who is steering?’, on traffic safety and automation in traffic.
Drivers are increasingly handing over ‘control of the wheel’ to their car. But they have no idea what the ‘autopilot’ exactly does. The driver must keep an eye on the process and intervene if necessary. You could compare it to the role of the pilot in an aircraft. This new role requires extra concentration, whereas automation makes the driver less alert, according to the board.
This makes driving easier and more difficult at the same time. And it is not always clear who is steering, the person or the car? This can be fatal when approaching a traffic jam. The driver thinks he can rely on these systems but is on his own if something goes wrong.