As Tesla rolls out what it calls Full Self-Driving in beta-testing form to a wider number of users, concerns are once again being voiced about the capabilities of this system—and what exactly it’s designed to do. As recently revealed in communications between Tesla and the state of California, despite its name, Full Self-Driving the system is only designed to be Level 2 at most, still requiring drivers to monitor the road, hold the steering wheel most of the time, and be ready to take over control of the vehicle at a moment’s notice.
The controversy points to another, larger question: Will drivers trust the ever-more-capable semi-autonomous driving systems as they arrive on the market, whether in their own hands or that of others?
The second part of that question is key. With so few semi-autonomous cars on the road today, any concern over safety is likely on the part of folks not actually using them—the drivers in cars who are using them already trust them to some extent, or perhaps even too much.
If we were to drill down further, most of the concern is likely centered on fears of their misuse, especially by those who’ve gotten comfortable enough to not pay attention to the road at all, convinced that the cars are indeed “self-driving,” and are instead watching movies on their phones. Or napping.
A recent study in the conducted by IAM RoadSmart, Britain’s largest independent road safety charity, has found that 60% of drivers regard such systems as a serious threat to road safety. The organization notes that an even larger percentage of female drivers felt this way, as well as older drivers.
“Autonomous and automated vehicle technology is becoming an integral part of everyday motoring and while it does have the capacity to improve road safety, its capabilities must be fully understood to ensure we don’t over rely on them,” said Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research.
“Over reliance on these systems, and a lack of training on how to use them, could have a negative effect, with potentially worrying results for motorists and pedestrians alike,” Greig added.
While the organization recommends including instruction on semi-autonomous systems as a part of new driver training, this isn’t something we’re likely to see in here, not only because driver tests in the US are very rudimentary, but also because young drivers aren’t typically the ones getting behind the wheel of a Tesla with FSD or a Cadillac with Super Cruise.
So perhaps it’s really just the automakers and regulators like the NHTSA that have to enforce their correct usage, mostly by mandating driver monitoring systems, as strict and invasive as that seems. But as more Level 2 and Level 3 systems appear on the market, we’re likely to see a split in public opinion in the coming years about the safety of these systems, especially once horror stories relating to their use get traction in the mainstream media.
Do you currently trust others to use semi-autonomous driving systems properly, or do you stay away from others on the highway you suspect could be using or misusing them? Let us know in the comments below.
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