Automated Vehicles May Not Ease Driver Stress

New research finds that despite the expectation that automated vehicles will make drivers’ jobs easier, state-of-the-art automated vehicles will probably not relieve stress.

While the new systems are designed to relieve considerable burden associated with driving, drivers are expected to continually monitor the systems and be available to take control at any time.

Human factors/ergonomics researchers at Texas Tech University said a person’s vigilance is likely to wane if they’ve been behind the wheel for an extended period.

In a new study, published in Human Factors, researchers evaluate whether increased time on the road could reduce drivers’ ability to detect and respond appropriately to an automation failure.

The study was performed by Drs. Eric Greenlee and Patricia DeLucia, and graduate student David Newton.

Greenlee, an assistant professor of human factors psychology, said, “State-of-the-art vehicle automation systems are designed to safely maintain lane position, speed, and headway without the need for manual driving.

“However, there are some situations in which the automation system may fail without warning. To compensate for this, drivers are expected to remain vigilant, continuously monitor the roadway, and retake control of their vehicle should the need arise, but past research has shown that a person’s ability to remain vigilant declines as a function of time.”

To test the role of vigilance in automated driving, the researchers asked 22 young adults to drive a simulated automated vehicle for 40 minutes. The drivers’ task was to observe vehicles stopped at intersections and distinguish between those that were positioned safety versus unsafely.

Vehicles positioned unsafely were positioned in a location in which a roadway hazard could not be detected by the vehicle’s automation.

Participants then pressed a button on their steering wheel to indicate a dangerous vehicle.

The drivers detected 30 percent fewer hazards at the end of the drive than at the beginning, and they also tended to react more slowly to hazards as the drive progressed.

Additionally, participants reported in a post-task questionnaire that monitoring for automation failures was difficult and stressful.

“Our results demonstrate that there are high costs associated with the need for sustained supervisory duty in automated vehicles,” Greenlee said.

“And the expectation that a human driver will provide reliable, attentive oversight during vehicle automation is untenable.

“Monitoring for automation failures can be quite demanding and stressful, suggesting that vehicle automation does not ensure an easy or carefree driving experience. As a result, vigilance should be a focal safety concern in the development of vehicle automation.”

Source: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

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