Automated vehicles will not likely reduce stress related to driving

Automated vehicles are being envisioned as stress busters for those who work as drivers, but this expectation is flawed says a new study.

Automated vehicles are expected to make a drivers’ jobs easier, especially if they’ve been behind the wheel for an extended period, but that will not likely be the case says a team of researchers at Texas Tech University. In a study researchers evaluate whether increased time on the road could reduce drivers’ ability to detect and respond appropriately to an automation failure.

The team points out that while vehicle automation systems are designed to safely maintain lane position, speed, and headway without the need for manual driving, there are some situations in which the automation system fails and that too without warning forcing drivers to remain vigilant to continuously monitor the automated driving system.

To test the role of vigilance in automated driving, the researchers asked 22 young adults to drive a simulated automated vehicle for 40 minutes. The drivers’ task was to observe vehicles stopped at intersections and distinguish between those that were positioned safety versus unsafely, a roadway hazard that the simulated vehicle’s automation could not detect. Participants then pressed a button on their steering wheel to indicate a dangerous vehicle.

The drivers detected 30{088d1cb64048bf224000213e8c919d3fe4174ca1a7fc6940fc4eaa65f3ffd5bb} fewer hazards at the end of the drive than at the beginning, and they also tended to react more slowly to hazards as the drive progressed. Additionally, participants reported in a post-task questionnaire that monitoring for automation failures was difficult and stressful.

“Our results demonstrate that there are high costs associated with the need for sustained supervisory duty in automated vehicles,” said one of the authors of the study. “And the expectation that a human driver will provide reliable, attentive oversight during vehicle automation is untenable. Monitoring for automation failures can be quite demanding and stressful, suggesting that vehicle automation does not ensure an easy or carefree driving experience. As a result, vigilance should be a focal safety concern in the development of vehicle automation.”