back to article Why do driverless car makers have this insatiable need for speed?

I get the point of driverless cars: once they actually work they're going to be great for everyone except the recreational driver, and it wouldn't be a surprise to find the technology being made mandatory for use on some of the public road network some decades down the line. But what I've not been able to grasp is why are all …

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Coat

Mapping physics to economics. It's a waste of time.

While physics has brought us the miracles of microwave popcorn and Test Match Special*, the 'dismal science' predicts a economic crash/boom every year until, like a stopped clock, it's proven correct.

'My name is Ozymadamsmith, Keynes of Keynes:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away

*Physics has had other successes.

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Mandatory

"and it wouldn't be a surprise to find the technology being made mandatory for use on some of the public road network some decades down the line."

Oh almost certainly, all in the name of "safety" or Think Of The Children (tm) or some other specious bullshit that further infantalises the population and in the same instance controlling them even more (you don't think these devices won't have a killswitch or some sort of remote takeover system the authorities can use do you?).

I suspect however before that happens the manually driven car will slowly be killed off by rising insurance premiums that will eventually reach the point that the average joe simply can't afford them anymore. Job done. Then of course governments will pronounce that since hardly anyone drives cars themselves any more then manually driven cars might as well be banned altogether. All in the name of "safety" naturally.

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Re: Mandatory

I'm not sure that rising insurance premiums will be allowed to reach a point where people can't afford them. That doesn't really play out very well for the insurance industry...

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Re: Mandatory

That doesn't really play out very well for the insurance industry...

Theoretically, and I am aware of how daft this sounds, but if these cars ever reached the stage of not having contributory negligence crashes, then there would be no motor insurance industry. If the car can't have an at fault accident then it doesn't need insurance against it.

If they can't be made to not crash then they can't be made to not kill people, and the argument for banning manual driving would fail.

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Re: Mandatory

If the car can't have an at fault accident then it doesn't need insurance against it.

It can still get damaged in other ways (a tree falls on it, for example), or it is stolen. Those are risks people would be willing to insure against.

As was seen recently, sometimes people just damage a nice car because... ...well, I can't really understand why, but it happens. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0vk99vhP1Q.

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Re: Mandatory

I'm not sure that rising insurance premiums will be allowed to reach a point where people can't afford them. That doesn't really play out very well for the insurance industry...

*****

I suppose that depends on how driverless cars are insured. If the owner has no effect on operation then making owners buy insurance seems pointless and the vehicle should effectively be insured by the manufacturer. In that case large part of the car insurance industry will wither and die.

If the user is still expected to maintain insurance to use the road, then from the insurance industries point of view, it's still just a car policy with a different risk analysis, so long as the average profit margin per policy remains the same then I don't see why the car insurance industry would care.

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Re: Mandatory

I love driving, but safety is a pretty strong argument against allowing people to drive.

Here is the official UK gov data on road deaths

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/annual-road-fatalities

in 2013 there 1713 people were killed on the roads, 785 of whom were sitting in a car, the rest being pedestrians, bikers, cyclists etc.

There seems to be evidence that human error is the cause of accidents in the large majority of cases, possibly over 90% (see http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2013/12/human-error-cause-vehicle-crashes)

It's unlikely that driverless cars will be licensed and accepted unless error rates are extremely low. It's hard to imagine that even ten deaths a year in the UK caused by a malfunctioning driverless car will be acceptable to the public

Therefore I'd expect that widespread adoption of this technology would lead to hundreds of people not dying, and thousands more not being injured.

I think that this is a good trade off for me not having the enjoyment of driving. And doubtless when driving becomes a purely recreational activity the market will provide me with opportunities to pursue it off the public roads.

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Re: Mandatory

Driving for pleasure can stay (emissions allowing) in its appropriate place, which then just as it is now, will be on race tracks.

The petrolhead attitude to driving on public roads is what will keep them out of the top 1% of drivers.

Safe driving is all about minimal risks. Good driving is combining minimal risk with smooth progress.

Bad driving is anything else.

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Re: Mandatory

It can still get damaged in other ways (a tree falls on it, for example), or it is stolen. Those are risks people would be willing to insure against.

Sure, but that has more in common with home insurance than motor insurance. It would not, in any case, be impacted by presence or not of self driving cars meaning the price would remain static.

I'm aware of how stupid this will sound too, given the lax automotive security lately, but it should be possible to prevent vehicle theft by tying its proximity when in motion to my phone, wallet, and other gps/nfc/rfid equipped devices.

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Re: Mandatory

@Werdsmith

Driving for pleasure can stay (emissions allowing) in its appropriate place, which then just as it is now, will be on race tracks.

Thats about as rational as saying "sex for pleasure should only occur in bedrooms", which self evidently ain't so.

The petrolhead attitude to driving on public roads is what will keep them out of the top 1% of drivers.

Only it doesn't. I enjoy driving fast where and when it is safe to do so. That may or may not exceed the posted speed limit, because that is wholly irrelevent to safety. There's a great many roads around Ireland, for example, where the posted limit is higher than can safely be attained and maintained.

Safe driving has three constituents: Observation, anticipation, and correct and timely reaction. Theres an important difference between seeing and observing. Outside of that you have to remember to leave the other guy room to make a mistake, because he will.

I spend significant amounts of both time and money on continuous driver training for both road and track driving. Compeltely without ego I can attest that I'm the safest driver I know and I am the person most of my acquaintances would name as the best driver they know. I've never had points in over 25 years of driving, haven't had an at fault accident since.... oh some time in the last millenium (I was a 17 year old boy once too!), have never written off a car, and yet... I'm a petrolhead. I always have been. And yes, I drive quickly. Fast and safe are not mutally exclusive any more than slow and safe are causal.

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Re: Mandatory

"in 2013 there 1713 people were killed on the roads, 785 of whom were sitting in a car, the rest being pedestrians, bikers, cyclists etc."

Yes, we need automated guidance for walking & cycling before we can eliminate road accidents.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mandatory

Think about the US and gun control. I suspect the NRA would pale into insignificance compared to what the motoring lobby could bring to bear. Ban manual driving. Not a chance.

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Re: Mandatory

@lucrelout.

I fully expected at least one petrolhead to cry about this one, they almost all have an inflated opnion of hemselves but are in denial.

And your sex in the bedroom analogy is probably the most blatant straw man I've ever seen on The Register comments (and that's saying something). It makes no sense at all and does your argument no favours.

"Safe driving has three constituents: Observation, anticipation, and correct and timely reaction"

Yep, risk minimisation.

I can attest that I am not the safest driver I know and I could drive a lot better than I habitually do. But just knowing that gives me a head start.

Try calling your insurance company and saying "I'm a petrolhead, and I like to drive fast, give me a discount please".

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Re: Mandatory

@Werdsmith

I fully expected at least one petrolhead to cry about this one, they almost all have an inflated opnion of hemselves but are in denial.

And I fully expected you'd respond like this, which is why I took the liberty of detailing the reasons for my self belief in my response. Anyone that thinks they're a good driver probably isn't. Good drivers know why they are good drivers, and have test passes well in excess of the basic L test.

And your sex in the bedroom analogy is probably the most blatant straw man I've ever seen on The Register

You must be new.

Driving fast can be safe on a track, and it can be dangerous there too. Driving fast on a public road can be safe and it can be dangerous. Your blanket assuption that nobody can drive safe and fast on the road is based more upon your own limited skills and experience than it is mine. That you are not safe when driving fast does not imply that I am not.

Frequently the speed limit is too high for the prevailing conditions, and frequently it is too low.

Try calling your insurance company and saying "I'm a petrolhead, and I like to drive fast, give me a discount please".

I have, and they do. I pay under 50p per BHP for 10k miles on comprehensive SDP cover. It is well known in advanced driving circles that we tend to drive faster than L testers. The insurance companies know this too, and they don't really expect anyone with a 400+ bhp car to be sticking to limits. The claim stats quantify that we are in fact in the top 1% of drivers in the UK, at least on an claims basis, hence the insurance discount.

If you really want to go to the top, then you'll need to try and join HPC, but I warn you in advance that it is properly difficult and rather expensive. Start with IAM for that is the cheapest and easiest to pass - the test is only a couple of hours.

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Re: Mandatory

If there's no other car or pedestrian at a crossing the driverless car could proceed over a red light. Why not synchronise the cars so they go through a crossing like a motorcycle display team? How about a train of cars at 100mph on a motorway, 5 feet from the car in front using less petrol than driving a safe distance at 60 mph due to reduced wind resistance?

Now the small number of people who drive themselves prevent all of this and are increasing the cost of everyone's journey, making it take longer and making it more dangerous.

Eventually, it all becomes irrelevant - why would I spend thousands learning to drive and enduring the high insurance that comes with it?

More than that, technology gave us driving and now it is taking it away in the same way it gave us looms and typewriters.

As an aside, I'm sure there's a great plot for a high tech murder whodunnit in all this stuff somewhere.

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Re: Mandatory

I shall edit this as it has been re-iterated many time above me.

So instead, I personally drive a 2cv, love the basic driving style, I don't really want to loose the ability to use my car as a daily driver, but alas it will happen. Probably not in my lifetime though, you don't all really expect the government to get this sorted do you !!!!

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Re: Mandatory

@AC

"Think about the US and gun control. I suspect the NRA would pale into insignificance compared to what the motoring lobby could bring to bear."

But the gun has never been made obsolete. There have been suggestions of alternatives for some situations but they often involve inflicting more pain and suffering and often more of a hazard to civilians and wildlife.

This would be awesome for the motoring lobby who would spend their time working on the most comfortable experience and features as the occupants have little else to do.

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Re: Mandatory

@werdsmith

"Yep, risk minimisation."

Yes, keeping the risks down to a minimum is the entire point of driving safely. The only way to completely eliminate the risk of being involved in an RTC is to stay away from roads completely.

Taking that as not being a viable option, and given that we are going to drive a vehicle on the road, one must keep risks as low as possible. Methods to do so include the aforementioned "Observation, anticipation, and correct and timely reaction", but include other things, too. One I have noticed is behaving as expected by other road users.

As pointed out by lucrelout, none of this precludes driving quickly. You can drive quickly and safely, and driving slowly doesn't automatically make you safe. On the contrary, driving too slowly can be dangerous in it's own right (you are not behaving as expected by other road users, and they are therefore more likely to make a mistake which lands you in bother).

What matters most, IMHO, is driving appropriately for the situation, good observational skills, experience and training. The other important factor is that you take driving seriously. I know many people who think they are a good driver with no need to learn any more, yet routinely make basic mistakes: driving too close, driving in a manner which makes them hard to predict, not observing/anticipating and then acting outraged when someone pulls out in front of them when it was obvious they were about to do so. If you take driving seriously, you will know that there is always more to learn, and you can always become a better driver, even if you are already the worlds best driver.

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Re: Mandatory

Does taking the Advanced Motoring qualification still get you lower premiums these days? Might look into that.

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Re: Mandatory

Sure, the insurance industry will allow that to transpire.

Insurance is a boondoggle already, and as a previous poster pointed out, and element of a subtle, insidious control system based on a set of assumptions catering to the most compliant, average contributors of any given populace. (At least in the matrix, they are being used as batteries)

Self driving cars, solve exactly zero problems, except one. Google shareholder ROI.

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Re: Mandatory

"Driving for pleasure can stay (emissions allowing) in its appropriate place, which then just as it is now, will be on race tracks."

How will driving on race tracks get me to back of beyond in the Yorkshire Moors?

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Re: Mandatory

The journey they are likely making because of a commitment to an industrial age paradigm of work and production.The effort to eliminate the driver from the equation is equivalent to a right wing political revolution that most argumentative geeks have no concept of resisting.

Someday we will need a lemming law?

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Re: Mandatory

Erm, no discounts, not really. There are companies that offer discounts but the end price tends to be more than shopping around.

But don't let that put you off. I think I have saved money via the saved insurance excess and bother involved in having an accident that I have avoided.You also get to be smug about the whole thing.

The problem with advanced driving is that only 'keen' drivers do it and they are the sort who tend to wrap their car around a tree anyway so the avoidance of this doesn't show up in the insurance risk. You can also use the training to drive faster...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mandatory (Wilco)

"Therefore I'd expect that widespread adoption of this technology would lead to hundreds of people not dying, and thousands more not being injured."

How many of those survivors are rapists, murderers, alcoholics, drug abusers, and/or stupid?

How will we clean up the gene pool if they're no longer doing it themselves?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mandatory

You seem to be suggesting that good safe driving on public roads cannot be pleasureable. This is false. There are many people who enjoy taking road trips or simply going out for a drive.

You also seem to be suggesting that driving enthusiasts cannot be in the top 1% of drivers. This is also false. Would you not classify professional test drivers as "petrolheads"?

People who are interested in driving often have a better understanding of it than those who are not. Better understanding is the pathway to better skills. There are just as many non-petrolheads who attempt to drive beyond their ability level. It's just that their ability level is lower. The very worst drivers are the people who somehow managed to get a license without ever really understanding what they are doing.

Your definition of good driving fails to include many other aspects. For example: Being able to accurately manouvre the vehicle. It's no use being able to make smooth progress with minimal risk if you can't reverse into a parking space when you reach your destination.

Driving is a bit like coding. It's easier for people to agree on what constitutes bad driving than good driving.

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Re: Mandatory

How about a train of cars at 100mph on a motorway, 5 feet from the car in front using less petrol than driving a safe distance at 60 mph due to reduced wind resistance?

This "convoying" argument is often made by people who have never seen a car come apart on the highway.

I have, more than once. Saw the entire rear bumper assembly fall off a car traveling in the high-speed lane once.

I have a friend who used to drive a tow truck. One time we picked up a Jeep that lost a wheel - fortunately in a parking lot - when the axle sheared due to a manufacturing defect.

That will be fun when it happens to the car 5 feet in front of you, while you're doing 100mph.

Just a couple of weeks ago a deer ran across the road in front of me. That's a common occurrence in this part of the country, but in this case the road was the eastbound side of I-70, a major restricted-access multilane highway. It came out of the trees in the median, so it wasn't visible until just before it entered the roadway; and it was a summer afternoon, so thermal imaging wouldn't have been much help either. That would be a pretty bad event for your 100mph convoy, too.

Eliminating human drivers does not eliminate all failure modes.

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Re: Mandatory

How will driving on race tracks get me to back of beyond in the Yorkshire Moors?

Clearly, the only solution is to create more long-distance rally courses.

There must be a downside, but I'm not seeing it.

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Re: Mandatory

Does taking the Advanced Motoring qualification still get you lower premiums these days?

I am only an associate at the moment (working towards my IAM advanced motorcycle qualification) and have already saved a bundle on insurance. This is mostly down to using the IAM Surety insurance scheme after getting quotes elsewhere. They will beat a like-for-like quote by 10% on both my motorbike and car policies.

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Big Brother

Call me cynical...

Prole control

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Re: Call me cynical...

Competitor control.

Driverless cars are going to reduce the number of cars sold, especially small cars.

You aren't going to need a 2nd car if a driverless Car2Go/Uber will pick you up and take you to the shops.

So VW, Toyota, GM and other makers of small cars are buying up the infrastructure to stop it getting out.

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Re: Call me cynical...

That only works if there's a monopoly on the technology. If everyone is withholding the technology, why shouldn't GM, Toyota or VW "cheat" by introducing the only driverless car and take the entire market for themselves?

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Childcatcher

Re: Call me cynical...

Because the way they'll stop it is with legislation. All they need is 1 driverless car to hit a kid and it would become the new paedophile menace.

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Re: Call me cynical...

Doubtful. If they hit the occasional kid but have a quarter of the number of fatalities that human drivers do, legislation won't stop them for long. If they get pushed out the door before they're really ready that would be a problem, but at least in a litigious country like the US, it will take years after the automakers think the cars are "ready" before all the legalities and insurance implications are worked out, by which time they really will be ready.

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Re: Call me cynical...

>have a quarter of the number of fatalities that human drivers do, legislation won't stop them for long

"Evidence based legislation" - know that would be a breakthrough !

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Descisions

Even if they perfect the driverless car so that it can get you form A to B there are plenty of issues to consider. For example

Suppose the car is driving along a road and a pedestrian suddenly steps out into the road. Now the car would normally react by slamming on the brakes and coming to a stop. But what happends if the car calculates that it's not going to stop in time to avoid hitting the pedestrian? It could then also swerve to avoid hitting them. But if there also happens to be a car coming the other way and swerving would mean hitting the other car in a head on collision then what's the "best" option. How does a driverless car some the ethical dilemma of either breaking but still hitting the pedestrian or swerving and crashing into the other car? Either way someone gets hurt.

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Alien

Re: Descisions

Automate the Pedestrians.

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Re: Descisions

And how is that different to the human bag of meat faced with the same dilemma? The autonomous car would probably "log" that pedestrian long before a human would do and could make decisions faster than the human so there'd be more chance of a better outcome.

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Re: Descisions

Driverless cars don't need to be perfect, they just need to be better than humans. In your scenario what would the human driver do? Most likely not react in time at all and just hit the pedestrian.

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Re: Decisions

"Suppose the car is driving along a road and a pedestrian suddenly steps out into the road. Now the car would normally react by slamming on the brakes and coming to a stop. But what happends if the car calculates that it's not going to stop in time to avoid hitting the pedestrian? It could then also swerve to avoid hitting them. But if there also happens to be a car coming the other way and swerving would mean hitting the other car in a head on collision then what's the "best" option. How does a driverless car some the ethical dilemma of either breaking but still hitting the pedestrian or swerving and crashing into the other car? Either way someone gets hurt."

This question has been asked before, but as you start to think about it, it leads to an obvious conclusion, which in some sense negates what Tim is talking about. Namely, corporations will not be running self-driving cars.

In your example above, the obvious thing to do is to slow down, swerve, and tell the oncoming car to also slow down and maneouvre to get out of the way. Notice that this means the oncoming car would need to be self-driving, or at least be able to communicate to apply brakes, and would need to be able to predict what path the first car will take. The easiest way for all this to play out is for all cars to run the same software. In such a situation, no one company is going to be allowed to control all the cars in a country, so it will be owned, or at least regulated, by the government.

That's one scenario, which could unfold in Europe, at least. The US would probably be fine with a company owning it. But also, expect the car insurance industry to no longer really exist. Insurance risk would be passed back to the manufacturers of the vehicles/software, and they are big enough to self-insure, or they would go through Lloyds of London, not Norwich Union or Budget.

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Stop

Re: Descisions (sic)

@Monty. What would a human do? I guess the average driver's mind would freeze in terror, slam on the brakes, and then close their eyes. It seems likely that a robot car would perform better in the situation you mention than a person could.

Maybe the dashboard could have a 'decency dial' to set the level of the car's self-preservation. When you've just pulled a new girlfriend you can show how thoughtful you are by setting it to 'Altruistic'. On the way home after you get knocked back, you can turn it back to the default setting of 'Die you fuckers'.

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Re: Descisions

But what happened if your car swerved and you got killed instead. You would be very happy about it.

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Re: Descisions

How does a driverless car some the ethical dilemma of either breaking but still hitting the pedestrian or swerving and crashing into the other car?

In most situations of that sort, if the on coming car is also automated then it applies its brakes and moves over as far as it can. That creates more space for 'your' automated car to swerve into and brake. Serious accident avoided, and in all probability there's no actual collision - the computers can play as a team in situations where people can't.

At 30mph even a ten year old car will stop well inside its own length under heavy braking, provided it is properly maintained with effective tyres. This is a fact. Communication and processing time between the vehicles will be near instant.

Otherwise the software makes the same decisions its owner would - if my kids are in the car I'm not swerving into the path of a head on crash, sorry, their safety comes first for me and I'm making the decisions when I'm driving. If I'm alone in the vehicle and a child runs out I might decide to take one for the team - nobody truly knows how they'd react until the moment is upon them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Descisions

Driverless cars don't need to be perfect, they just need to be better than humans. In your scenario what would the human driver do?

Use the screen wipers, of course. Duh :)

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Stop

Re: Descisions

@Lucre. "At 30mph even a ten year old car will stop well inside its own length under heavy braking, provided it is properly maintained with effective tyres. This is a fact."

No it isn't. At 30 mph, even if you can slow down at 1g, it's going to take 30 feet to stop. On second thoughts, maybe you have a stretch limo?

http://www.csgnetwork.com/stopdistcalc.html

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Descisions

It's not a hard decision at all. A driverless car would never purposely swerve into the path of an oncoming vehicle, it would make no sense to program it to do that. It's primary responsibility is also to the safety of its occupants.

In the situation described, the oncoming car would already be noted and it would be decided that it is not a suitable escape route, however the pedestrian's path would have been spotted and reacted to in a much shorter time to human reactions. The brakes would have been applied earlier and the horn sounded (or not based on real accident stats as to how pedestrians react to a horn sounding). Any possible escape route that doesn't involve the oncoming car or the hitting the pedestrian would have been considered. Eventually in an impossible scenario the pedestrian would have been hit but at a far lower speed than would normally have happened and the car's cameras would absolve the driver/car of guilt.

A car swerving into an oncoming vehicle would put the driverless car at fault and a possible manslaughter charge.

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Re: Descisions

This is the "trolley problem". And there's not really a solution.

I did once write a piece called "When Should Your Google Car Be Allowed To Kill You?" because one possible solution (obviously, depends upon the set up but....) is that your car drives you into a wall so as to kill you but save more other people.

Tricky really....

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Re: Descisions

This specific situation is easy to deal with:

You should never program a car to swerve into oncoming traffic, because the forces involved between two cars in a head on collision will be much, much higher due to the rapid deceleration. Also you are increasing the average number of people involved, since the average occupancy of vehicles is > 1.

Even if it's inevitable that the pedestrian is going to be hit, the car will have some time to reduce the impact speed, and possibly deploy pedestrian safety measures such as pop up bonnets, which will reduce the severity of passenger injuries.

In practice programming a car to minimize harm to the occupants of the car and other road users (probably in that order - who's going to get in a car that will drive them off a cliff to avoid a pedestrian?) should give acceptable results.

You can probably devise some contrived situation where an impossible choice has to be made (see "The Trolley Problem") but the chances of any such situation actually arising are very small

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Descisions

It's not quite the trolley problem as that is based on human morals and psychology of the problem at hand, especially when the problem is escalated.

However a Car can be programmed with simple guidance that its primary aim while functioning normally is to protect the occupant while at the same time reducing or minimising any consequences to third parties.

Anything outside this does not make sense as a deliberate cause has been made to injure someone. I cannot see any circumstance where the car should be programmed to harm the occupant deliberately when it could be avoided, even if this means that there maybe multiple third-party casualties (unless the car could detect that it was being used for a suicide bomb attack!) The risks for the company would be too high.

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Re: Descisions

Actually, there seems to be wide agreement about the sheer braking distance (excluding reaction time) being around 15m at 30mph. That's quite a limo indeed...

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Re: Descisions

@Symon.

I suspect the difference between our views is that you'll have used actual 30mph as opposed to indicated 30mph, which is what I used. Apologies, I should have made that clear.

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