The most important part of self-driving cars will be human control

Until now, the public dialogue about self-driving cars has centered mostly on technology, writes Michael Nees, Assistant professor, Lafayette College. The public’s been led to believe that engineers will soon remove humans from driving. Researchers in the field of human factors—experts on how people interact with machines—have shown that we shouldn’t ignore the human element of automated driving.

“When machines take over, the work required of the human is typically not removed—sometimes it is not even reduced—as compared to before the automation was implemented. Rather, the job becomes different. Instead of manual work, the human is relegated to the role of a monitor—one who constantly watches to detect and correct technology failures. The problem is that people are not especially well-suited for this tedious job. It’s not surprising that drivers retaking manual control from automation need up to 40 seconds to return to normal, baseline driving behaviors.

All of this is not to say that self-driving cars will fail to deliver benefits; they will undoubtedly transform the driving experience. But to develop this promising technology, human factors must be considered.”