back to article I survived a head-on crash with driverless cars – and dummies

I’m driving along the French Riviera, and it’s a challenge. It’s a manual car, but for some reason I can’t hear the engine, which after ten years driving an automatic makes it difficult knowing when to switch gears. Suddenly the pedals start moving themselves, the steering wheel gyrating wildly as it avoids oncoming …

  1. AdamT

    "slightly eerie"

    You probably shouldn't watch the slow-mo child seat tests that they have on which.co.uk featuring similar crash-test-dummy babies and toddlers, then.They do actually put up a warning before them saying that they might be disturbing, which I casually dismissed and then, shortly after, thoroughly agreed with...

  2. phuzz Silver badge
    Terminator

    It's been said before, but the first crash of a self-driving car likely won't be because of the computer, it'll be because it tried to hand control back to a human who wasn't ready.

    Which is kind of my problem with the idea really. It would be nice to have the computer take over for me on a long motorway journey, but how am I supposed to relax and make use of that freedom when I might only have a second or so to take control back of the car in an emergency?

    1. Uffish

      Re: "handover"

      It's simple really, if the system can't safely handle a handover with a human it can't be trusted and won't be insured. Ergo, no system initiated handover at speed and a lot of problems with driver initiated handover "I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that".

    2. Malcolm 1

      Also I think the other problem with handing over to human control is that the human in question may not have driven anything for weeks or months under normal circumstances. Despite driving regularly for nearly 20 years, I still notice a feeling of unfamiliarity back in the driving seat after I've taken a long holiday or been commuting on the bicycle for a few weeks. Muscle memory and driving instinct kicks in fairly rapidly, but it's not a great time to be dealing with challenging driving conditions.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        My prediction is that "driverless" cars will actually appear as a set of safety improvements. If manufacturers install the sensors in their new cars and use them initially to do an emergency stop when somebody is about to do a rear end shunt (the most common accident in the UK IIRC) then the insurers would love it and drivers wouldn't complain too much about another safety system like ABS called Automatic Stopping System. :/

        1. Teddy the Bear

          Already do this...

          Emergency stop systems are on a range of new cars - Volvo, BMW, Toyota among plenty of others. To get EuroNCAP five-star rating, the car has to have "Autonomous Emergency Braking" which can bring the car to a stop without the driver ever touching the brake.

          I'm more interested in the "platoon" uses of autonomous vehicles - that should increase capacity on the existing roads which will help for a while on that bloody M6 (on whose tarmac I have sacrificed literally months of my life).

          1. Chris Evans

            'Platooning' Re: Already do this...

            Thanks for the post Teddy. The article didn't explain the term 'platooning' but your comment explained enough thanks. All the other articles on driverless cars I've read have referred to 'convoys' . Why articles do not include an explanation for terms that I'm sure many readers won't have seen in that context before, is sloppy journalism.

            1. John Presland

              Re: 'Platooning' Already do this...

              Derrrrr ... Have you heard of Google?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > My prediction is that "driverless" cars will actually appear as a set of safety improvements.

          A Google engineer gave a talk about this specific issue.

          In their view, there was a very large gap between the capabilities of cars with driver assist technologies and autonomous vehicles and I have to agree with them.

          Drivers become lazier and less attentive the more that the vehicle does for them to the extent that, although they are still technically in control, they are not really driving the car in an active sense.

          I think that situation is particularly dangerous.

          You can only go so far with assist technologies. Any further and they become counter productive.

          1. nilfs2
            Devil

            Can't agree more

            "A Google engineer gave a talk about this specific issue..."

            Can't agree more, the day automatic transmissions and isolated interiors became popular was the day that any moron could pick up the keys and "drive" a car. Driving a car as well as flying an airplane is not for everyone, it takes a person with focus and technical skills to do so, but car manufacturers have managed to put all the wrong people behind the wheel.

  3. TRT Silver badge

    I wonder...

    if a self-driving vehicle will actively try to avoid running the tyres into the myriad of potholes and sunken manholes that the UK roads offer up.

    1. John Sturdy
      Boffin

      Re: I wonder...

      It should be able to avoid the holes left where the researches drilled out road sample cores, anyway.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: I wonder...

        Though those holes were rather small, they had to count them all.

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: I wonder...

      Well, let's see - the AI won't be paying for any potential extra repairs caused by not avoiding potholes, but will have been configured by people acutely aware they'll be on the hook for any problems originating in a misguided attempt to swerve around said potholes. Does that answer you question...?

  4. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Don't understand the point of knowing traffic lights. The guy says the car will pace itself. Why? If the light is going to be red when you arrive, slowing down to wait for it to be green when you arrive will be dumb at best, traffic hazard at slightly less than best. If it means the car will break the speed limit to catch a green light, again, stupid.

    1. Terry Barnes

      "If the light is going to be red when you arrive, slowing down to wait for it to be green when you arrive will be dumb at best, traffic hazard at slightly less than best. "

      No. Stopping and restarting uses a lot of energy. Traffic flows better when vehicles continue to move rather than stop and start (hence variable motorway speed limits during congested periods).

      1. DanDanDan
        Unhappy

        As a motorcyclist, it irks me when cars slow down to wait for a red light to turn green. It means the traffic never stops, and makes filtering through the traffic much more dangerous (I never filter through moving traffic). Given I can accelerate off the line much faster than a car, it's a bit annoying to be held up by cars (like when you're in a car, stuck behind a big lorry or bus or tractor). I'm not saying it's not a good idea, just that it'll annoy me :)

        1. Uffish

          Re: "slowing down"

          It would annoy me (a car driver) if the vehicle in front started dawdling just because it had knowledge of the next traffic light timing, especially if I was trying to get to a turn-off junction before the traffic lights.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "slowing down"

            Why should a vehicle in front of you waste energy to satisfy your impatience? What gives you priority over the vehicle in front?

        2. Graham Marsden
          Thumb Up

          @DanDanDan

          Search out your local IAM or RoSPA Motorcycle Group and sign up to one of their courses and you'll soon learn how to filter safely and progressively through traffic.

        3. Anonymous Cow Herder

          Sorry to annoy you , but I slow down early for red lights to force the car behind me to close the gap. It forces him to start braking (ie wakes him up if he's daydreaming) and then, when the gap is closed, act as a shield for the back of my car. Its known as defensive driving.

          1. John 62

            "Sorry to annoy you , but I slow down early for red lights to force the car behind me to close the gap. It forces him to start braking (ie wakes him up if he's daydreaming) and then, when the gap is closed, act as a shield for the back of my car. Its known as defensive driving."

            WHAT? Opening up the gap in front of you is defensive driving. Closing the gap behind you is silly. If someone is tailgating me, I might slow down a little to increase the space in front of me so that if something happens in front of me, I have more time to react and not have to brake hard so there's less chance the tailgater will rearend me.

    2. AdamT

      Actually lots of evidence that travelling at a constant say 25mph and going straight through lights at green is quicker for you (and everyone else) than going at 30mph, having to stop,queue and then start again. Germany, for example, has been doing this sort of thing for decades with their traffic lights. Similar example on the london underground where they are switching to "moving block" signalling (which attempts to keep a constant speed / spacing) compared to the old "fixed block" where the driver would slam the train to a halt at the red signal because there was no way of telling that the next block would become free in a few seconds so actually they'd have been better off slowing a little.

      1. Toltec

        "Actually lots of evidence that travelling at a constant say 25mph and going straight through lights at green is quicker for you (and everyone else) than going at 30mph, having to stop,queue and then start again. Germany, for example, has been doing this sort of thing for decades with their traffic lights. "

        In the UK they appear to do the opposite, on a stretch of road I use fairly often the lights are timed so the the next one will go red just before you reach it unless you break the speed limit.

        On the M25 junction 3 roundabout when going from the M25 southbound to the A20 westbound you almost always get stopped by the lights just before the Swanley turn then when they change, stopped again at the next set just before the A20 exit. It is sometimes possible to make it round if you are at the front, there is no traffic in the way on the roundabout and you 'go for it'.

        1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

          > ... often the lights are timed so the the next one will go red just before you reach it ...

          Not just round your way.

          Around where the office is, they made a one-way system to balls things up. Lots of traffic lights, all carefully designed to show green to empty roads while traffic waits at the red lights. They'll then turn red on the empty road as the traffic from the next set of lights along the road arrives.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            There are some fairly advanced sequences running in London and other big cities. One thing they try to achieve is managing the flow of traffic into the core of a city - light sequences are modified to increase the flow of traffic leaving the core while slowing the flow of traffic entering if there's a danger of gridlock developing.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          In the UK they appear to do the opposite, on a stretch of road I use fairly often the lights are timed so the the next one will go red just before you reach it unless you break the speed limit.

          Follow the money. You going over the speed limit: fines. You doing a lot of stop/start: higher fuel sales. By an absolutely shocking coincidence, both benefit in principle the same party whereas addressing the problem would cost the same amount of effort but for lesser return.

          See? That wasn't so difficult to work out now, was it?

          :)

  5. Buzzword

    Pavement Testing Facility - ignored?

    So we've got a bunch of scientists in white coats determining the best road surface to use, taking into account durability, cost, repair time, weather-resistance, etc. Yet quite a few motorways in the UK still use concrete (the M25 southwest section comes to mind). Presumably the scientists' recommendations are ignored, as per standard UK government policy?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pavement Testing Facility - ignored?

      ...quite a few motorways in the UK still use concrete...

      It could simply be a case of not wanting to rip something out while it's still got some life in it.

      When the motorway was built I'm sure concrete seemed like a good idea, that fact it's still there now says that it wasn't a completely terrible idea. Who knows though, maybe concrete was chosen because it has better wear characteristics over tarmac. That would seem plausible as it's much harder and the motorway you picked as an example gets an usually large amount of traffic. I seem to remember that the M25 is largely built over poor ground as well. Perhaps ground conditions require a stiffer material than tarmac. One size does not always fit all.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Pavement Testing Facility - ignored?

        If the contract to build the road and then the contract to maintain it went to the same company - that might affect your choice of road surface.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pavement Testing Facility - ignored?

      Presumably the scientists' recommendations are ignored, as per standard UK government policy?

      Of course not. You're simply looking at using the results of an earlier study: how well does the road surface lasts if you put "bad surface" signs next to it instead of fixing the road? I have seen that approach work for years in various places in Europe. I guess repairs only happen when the signs wear out.

  6. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    I love the smell of fresh bitumen...

    Re cement-based or bitumen-based road surfaces: both have their pros and cons (big surprise...). Had to learn all that stuff once, but went into structural engineering later. IIRC it came down to which 'faith' you would subscribe to... In real life I guess money usually decides, i.e. the bottom line on the tender. Mind you, there are 'hybrid' types of road surface too... IMO bitumen-based (aka asphalt) roads are more flexible and easier to repair. Concrete highways sometimes suffer 'blow-ups' in a hot summer. A big factor however is what is beneath the surface, if that isn't done properly the road will be crap in no time, no matter what surface. (Like the foundations of a building. Think tower of Pisa.)

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: I love the smell of fresh bitumen...

      "A big factor however is what is beneath the surface, if that isn't done properly the road will be crap in no time"

      IIRC around 2005 there was a major new A road which suffered this and had to be rebuilt from scratch before it had even officially opened. The Beeb had coverage at the time.

      UK roads are generally crap because they're built like crap on crap basework. It's not uncommon to see on excavations that the roadbed on a busy road only goes down 4-5 inches and is shittily drained.

      Compare and contrast with a roman road (4-6 feet above the surroundings and far lower loading than modern roads) or german roads (4-8 foot deep foundations, with the autobahns originally intended to be able to take panzer columns at full speed, but even the goat-track mountain roads have deep basework.)

  7. Wupspups

    "There’s a certain impotence when you’re sat there, with the tools to control life or death for yourself, your passengers and anyone else who crosses your path, and you’re locked out, in the hands of the machine. In the driving seat, but not driving."

    And there in rather a long sentence is the whole problem with driverless cars. Human being don't like to feel impotent. They want to feel in control. I know I do. If I am a passenger in a car I cant sit in the front because I am constantly checking the traffic, trying to look at the instruments. God forbid that we have to emergency brake because my right foot is pushing that imaginary brake pedal

    1. Alex Brett

      In some cars the pedal on the passenger side is not quite imaginary: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13566999 ;)

  8. russell 6

    One hundred years ago

    A century ago motorized private transport was a solution to a problem, improved travel times etc. Today however, it is a problem in need of a solution. And I say this as someone who loves driving and gets annoyed by people who don't even drive the speed limit when conditions are perfect. I'm not sure autonomous private transport is the answer.

    1. nilfs2
      Meh

      Re: One hundred years ago

      "One hundred years ago..."

      Efficient public transportation is the answer, but it is not likely to become mainstream; it's harder to show off your social status traveling on a train or a bus; for most people their vehicles are a sign of status.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

        Re: One hundred years ago

        "... it's harder to show off your social status traveling on a train or a bus ...

        Isn't that what iThingies are for?

  9. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "up to 20 and over 50 can be done".

    There are sound technical reasons for limiting urban traffic to 20mph (pedestrian survival stats(*)), so this may be an opportunity to make a step-change for urban road safety reasons.

    Bear in mind that speed limits were originally 20mph, that arbitrarily reimposed at 30mph after the few years of chaos when there were no limits at all.

    (*) 98% survivability at 20mph impact, 90% @30, 50%@35 and 10% at 40mph

    If humans aren't in control then driving progress is likely to be smoother anyway. The biggest problem with traffic in general is the fact that different drivers run at different speeds and this causes bunching/frustration for those behind the slow ones.

  10. captain veg

    not for me

    “Typically, people won’t believe the tech will work until they’ve tried it. It was the same with adaptive cruise control. They you sit them in the car, and they say ‘wow, it works.”

    You can't generalise from that. I have no interest in cruise control, adaptive or otherwise. I don't care whether it works or not; so far as I'm concerned either you are concentrating fully on driving or you shouldn't be doing it at all. By the way, that's an argument for better driver training, not self-driving vehicles.

    And now some Dilbert.

    -A.

  11. Vic

    Self-driving cars are so passe...

    TRRL[1] had some fun with a DS.

    That was five decades ago...

    Vic.

    [1] As they were back then

  12. nilfs2
    Terminator

    Give me a computer driver anyday ove a human driver

    Computers don't get distracted, they are not rude, they will always follow the road rules and they don't drive recklessly because it is late for a meeting. Assuming proper road conditions (for me, that is the hardest part to achieve) driverless cars are not becoming popular fast enough!.

  13. Cincinnataroo

    Who wants to own one of these?

    I see gushing reports of these driverless things.

    All well and good if that's you.

    Me. They're not cars. They're kinda robo-taxis. If you have a crash it's not your fault, it might be caused by the next strike of the VW engine control programmers, a TLA, or a kid learning how to take over cars (possibly from his home in Central Asia). Nah, who wants to be an appendage of SkyNet.

    If/when they come they should be called robo-taxis not cars.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I used to work for the Transport Research Laboratory, and I have a relative that still does (hence the AC post). Probity went out the window years ago and the customer now gets exactly the results they have paid for, to the great disgust of those forced to acquiesce to such demands by the spineless individuals in management at TRL.

    It is a shadow of it's former self - gutted of it's best staff by incompetent management and of it's land and many of it's facilities by the landlord (Legal & General), who have planning permission in to build 1,000 houses on what used to be one of the best transport research organisations on the planet.

    PS - When every previous government said they weren't looking at road tolling they were lying through their teeth. TRL has been working on the tech (including full scale trials) for a very long time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      As a Biker

      I have severe doubts about the TRRL.

      Two reasons: Leg Protectors (aka Knee Cappers) and Airbags for Motorcycles.

      I think any biker old enough to have been riding bikes back in the 90s will still have nightmares at the thought of those two monstrosities.

      They may have rebranded themselves as the TRL, but even so...

      PS There have been rumours about the TRL conducting Road Pricing technology trials for decades.

      1. Vic

        Re: As a Biker

        Two reasons: Leg Protectors (aka Knee Cappers) and Airbags for Motorcycles.

        A guy I used to know was very pleased with those attempts...

        He was working at TRL at the time. They bought in two bikes (GPz9? Something like that. The memory is dim) and kitted them out with leg protectors.

        It was clear, within a few nanoseconds of riding the bikes, that the idea was ludicrous - so the project was cancelled, and the bikes sold off. Very cheaply. He got one.

        It took a good 5 minutes to remove the leg "protectors", and he quite liked the impact markings on the paintjob,

        Vic.

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