Aggressive drivers see autonomous cars as easy prey

Aggressive drivers are looking forward to sharing the road with autonomous cars as they believe they can cut in front of them easily

Aggressive drivers are looking forward to sharing the road with autonomous cars as they believe they can cut in front of them easily, research suggests.

Drivers who are more "combative" tend to "see autonomous vehicles as easier agents to deal with on the road" than humans, because they think they will be able to "bully" them, according to a study by the London School of Economics and Goodyear.

On the other side, “more co-operative road users tend to be less open” to cars that drive themselves, it adds, but will be happy to give way to them.

The study is one of the most comprehensive pieces of research into international social attitudes to self-driving technology; 12,000 drivers in 11 countries were polled and dozens of focus groups were held.


Human v machine

The interaction between human drivers and autonomous vehicles is one of the key hurdles facing developers of the technology. Unspoken rules of the road, such as letting cars out from behind a stopped bus, are difficult to replicate without human behaviour, said Chris Tennant from the LSE, who led the research project.

Some people in the focus groups who identified themselves as combative drivers said they would take advantage of the inbuilt safety features of driverless cars that will limit their speed and make them more cautious at junctions.

“I’ll be overtaking all the time because they’ll be sticking to the rules,” said one UK driver. Another said: “They are going to stop. So you’re going to mug them right off. They’re going to stop and you’re just going to nip round.”

Many drivers in the groups said they would be happy to let autonomous cars out at junctions, Mr Tennant stressed.

He added: “But we had a lot of quotes from people who thought they [autonomous cars] will just drive like learner drivers.

“Quite a lot of people said they thought that with a few of them [self-driving cars] on the road the rest of us will start to behave nicely.”

Cautious autonomous vehicles

Because self-driving cars will be programmed to avoid accidents, they are likely to err on the side of caution. This could allow drivers to take advantage of them to gain right of way on the roads, evidence suggests.

Earlier this year one of Google's self-driving cars crashed into the side of a bus that it believed was going to let it out of a side lane. Following the incident, Google said it would make some changes to the way the vehicle anticipated the movements of other drivers on the road.

The LSE study, conducted with Goodyear, also polled drivers in Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Sweden.

It found that UK drivers are more cautious about autonomous vehicles than their European compatriots.

Some 55 per cent of the 1,450 UK drivers polled said they were uncomfortable driving alongside autonomous cars on the road, compared with an average of 39 per cent from the non-UK nations.

British drivers were also more worried that driverless cars could malfunction, with 83 per cent raising concerns over this compared with 71 per cent from motorists elsewhere.

Some 65 per cent of UK motorists agreed that “machines don’t have the common sense needed to interact with human drivers”, compared with a non-UK average of 59 per cent.

- Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016