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Survey suggests motorists in self-driving cars could be driven to distraction


Automobile technology is evolving rapidly, pushing pace to move self-driving cars from concept to reality. As always, this requires the coming together of three key elements: the driver, the vehicle, and the environment and infrastructure. Each has its own individual characteristics, but also interacts and intertwines with the others. We can’t make changes to one without impacting the other two. Because of this, it’s imperative to understand not only each individual component, but also their relationships to each other and how they work as a whole.

We already know that the role of the driver will evolve and that the industry needs to design technology with humans in mind. However, until the day that all vehicles on the roadways are autonomous, there will be drivers…and driver error.

Chris Mullen

That’s why, before we can sprint forward, we must first have a solid understanding of people in relationship to the vehicle – their intentions, attitudes, motivations, and behaviors. This includes addressing problems such as distracted driving. Automated technology has limitations; and there may be times the vehicle may need to transfer control back to the driver. When it does, the driver needs to be ready to re-engage, rapidly, after they might have been completely disengaged from driving. For vehicle automation to be effective, it is necessary to understand the needs for driver engagement. This includes addressing the reasons that a driver might disengaged, or drive distracted. Without this, automation could actually cause distracted driving.

State Farm recently conducted a survey to examine drivers’ knowledge, attitudes, and potential behaviors regarding autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles. Autonomous cars can drive themselves without any human involvement. Semi-autonomous cars include automated features, but may still require human operators in some circumstances. This survey was the second iteration of a study first conducted in September 2013.

One of the most enlightening findings from this year’s survey had to do with driver distractions. The survey asked drivers how much more, or less, likely drivers would be to engage in certain behaviors when a semi-autonomous vehicle is driving itself compared to when a driver is driving the vehicle. Knowing that there may be circumstances where the driver may need to take over control of a semi-autonomous car, survey respondents said they would more likely be:

  • Eating – 48 percent
  • Reading texts – 45 percent
  • Sending texts – 43 percent
  • Taking pictures – 36 percent
  • Accessing the internet – 36 percent
  • Tending to children – 32 percent
  • Recording videos – 26 percent
  • Watching movies – 21 percent
  • Reading a book – 19 percent

Clearly, people want to do things besides drive during their trips. Knowing this, there is a need for education so that consumers understand the capabilities and potential limitations of their automated systems, and what’s required of the driver.

Although wide use of autonomous vehicles is years away, cars with some automated features are already available, and most survey respondents are knowledgeable about those features. The features drivers said they want most are automated backup assistance and drowsy driving detection. Since State Farm conducted the first autonomous vehicle survey in 2013, there is growing confidence among drivers that these vehicles will be able to safely navigate from one location to another.

We are beginning to see the evidence of positive safety effects from various automated systems that are currently available. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports fewer crash claims from cars with forward collision warning, automatic braking, adaptive headlights, lane departure warnings and blind spot assist.

So what’s next? In addition to all of the research we’re doing with consumers, State Farm supports outside research and is a founding member of the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center at the University of Michigan. Our research is focused on learning about the risks that may be mitigated by this technology and learning about new risks that may emerge. As automated vehicle technology reduces or eliminates some risks that drivers face today, new risks are likely to emerge. We’re focused on the big picture – how can we adapt to these changes and continue to deliver value to our customers.

A copy of the full survey findings is available here: https://newsroom.statefarm.com/state-farm-releases-autonomous-vehicles-survey-results/

Chris Mullen is director of technology research at State Farm Insurance.


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