What would you do when behind the wheel of a self-driving vehicle?


How would people behave if they were behind the wheel of one of the self-driving vehicles that could be available by mid-decade?

General Motors and its research partners recently tried to find out by studying how non-driving activities influence driver behavior in self-steering, semi-autonomous vehicles.

One key finding is that driver attentiveness can be improved through advanced driver assistance and safety features.

“Drivers are already engaging in risky behavior and are likely to continue doing so given the prevalence of smartphones and other portable electronics, so why not make it safer for them and the people around them,” said Dr. Eddy Llaneras, principal investigator at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), which is dedicated to conducting research to save lives, time and money in the transportation field by developing and using state-of-the-art tools, techniques and technologies to solve transportation challenges.

“Offering some form of vehicle automation with the proper safeguards might be better than what is happening on our roads today,” he said.


Driver attention

The GM study examined the demands on the driver’s visual attention in hands-on steering and automated steering, both with full-speed range adaptive cruise control engaged. The studies took place in a driving simulator at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis and with VTTI on a GM test track in Michigan.

When engaging in non-driving activities, drivers tend to split their visual attention between the roadway and secondary tasks by making relatively frequent, but brief off-road glances.

The study showed that advanced driver monitoring and assistance features, such as Forward Collision Alert, increases drivers’ focus on the road ahead by 126 percent when automated steering is in operation, which increases detection and response to roadway events.

“People have dreamed of having self-driving cars for decades, but having that capability will be a major adjustment for people when they are first introduced,” said John Capp, GM director of Global Active Safety Electronics and Innovation. “This study is helping GM and its research partners determine the best methods for keeping drivers engaged.”

The human factors research underway is helping GM and its suppliers identify what new technologies will be needed to ensure safe operation of future autonomous systems.

The Federal Highway Administration helped pay for the study but does not necessarily endorse all its findings.