What happens when a self-driving car meets a road rage driver?

What happens when a self-driving car meets a road rage driver?
We’ve all met the angry driver – but how should a driver-less car react to such behaviour? Credit: shalunts

Driverless cars could soon be cruising Australian roads if South Australia gives the go-ahead to reforms to its road legislation.

The technology promises to increase safety on our roads, but what happens when such meet the less attractive side of human driving: the road rage driver?

Such incidents may be rare on our roads but they do happen, with one Australian expert saying such drivers tend to target " they can dominate".

In the UK, almost half of the 3,000 people surveyed by one admitted they sometimes acted aggressively behind the . In Canada, up to 80% of drivers admit to road rage behaviour.

Some commentators have flagged road rage and how it relates to the use of self-driving cars as an issue that needs our consideration.

The technology so far

While some states in the USA have already allowed on their roads, and the UK has this month begun limited trials of the technology, it may be a while before we see such cars regularly driving themselves along our suburban or city streets.

There is still a lot of work to do to mature the technology to a level where most people would consider it safe enough to mix with the normal traffic.

The big issues include developing systems to deal with inclement weather, improved sensing of pedestrians and bicycles and an ability to deal with other less predictable elements encountered on the road.

But it is the people issues that are likely to be the hardest to overcome, including challenges with ethics, and in particular, the issue of other people deliberately misbehaving around self-driving cars.

Who's in control of the wheel?

There are three general self-driving car scenarios.

Firstly, the one that most people have witnessed on the TV news, where a competent driver sits behind the wheel and acts as a backup driver to the computer systems that actually performs the task of driving.

Self-driving cars of this type have now been demonstrated by numerous car manufacturers, research labs and of course Google.

There are human issues associated with this type of self-driving car because there is an assumption that the backup driver is paying enough attention to suddenly take over driving and save the day if needed.

If the point of a self-driving car is to let the human "driver" kick back and relax then this assumption is problematic.

But the human inattention problem is nothing compared to the issues found in the other two modes of operation of a self-driving car. One is where the people are only passengers and do not have an ability to take over control, the other is where the self-driving car is actually empty of people.

There are reports that Google and Uber will compete to create self-driving taxis. A robot taxi will necessarily operate in these two modes.

When you call it from your phone or app, it will drive the streets to you empty, but when it collects you and any other passengers, you can not be expected to take over as a backup driver. Many people catch taxis precisely to avoid the responsibility of driving.

How will other human drivers in their own cars treat these self-driving taxis? I am certain that most people will treat them just like they do current human driven cars, including incidents of road rage.

The road rage driver

Until now, road rage has only occurred between people. But what will it mean when a driverless car is driving around empty or with passengers only? Will the rage from a frustrated human driver be eliminated when they see that it was just a machine and not another person that annoyed them (no victim to dominate)?

Or will it increase the rage given that there will be no other driver to confront? Will a human driver rage against the passengers in the driverless taxi scenario? Will a human driver see the driverless car itself as something to dominate, to prove he or she is better than a machine?

I have recently glimpsed what it might be like to be a passenger in a self-driving car. And no doubt many of you will have witnessed this too. Most weekends, I spend some time being driven by a brand new driver. My teenage son is learning to drive and it's my job to teach him.

My car on those weekend afternoons may as well be a self-driving robot car. I am sitting in the passenger seat with no controls. An autonomous, yet not fully competent system – my son – is in full control.

My few hours driving instruction have opened my eyes to the horrible people on the road: those who deliberately abuse learner drivers. There are people who spin their wheels in front of us, who aggressively overtake and who generally show their intolerance towards an imperfect driver.

What will these people do when they come across a self-driving robot car? Will they play reckless games? Will they try and "break" the robots, putting them in difficult and dangerous positions?

Will people hunt empty self-driving cars, spoofing them into driving into the back of a waiting truck and stealing whatever cargo they may be carrying?

Challenge for driverless cars

As has occurred in the past, we tend to adopt new technologies if the negatives are outweighed by the positives.

Take the smartphone as an example; we have all lost some of our privacy, only to gain enormously from the functions of geolocation and social media. While many predict that driverless cars will ultimately improve road safety we also need to think about the darker side too.

While we consider legislation on how driverless cars work, we also need to think how we deal with those who will abuse the technology. Are new laws needed to deal with reckless or dangerous interference with an autonomous vehicle?

I am sure that robot cars will be part of the future. Will my son have to teach his future children to drive? Maybe. Will he be teaching his future grandchildren? I very much doubt it.

A future with no more L-plates: perhaps. Maybe the only plates to be seen will be H-plates, and they will be to help the robots watch out for us. Warning, human driver at the wheel!


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Bring on driverless cars

This story is published courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution/No derivatives).
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Citation: What happens when a self-driving car meets a road rage driver? (2015, February 17) retrieved 19 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-02-self-driving-car-road-rage-driver.html
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User comments

Feb 17, 2015
Until now, road rage has only occurred between people.

Maybe we'll get a 'road rage' setting on the autonomous cars. That'd be fun. Like watching full scale 'robot wars'.
But seriously:
What will these people do when they come across a self-driving robot car? Will they play reckless games? Will they try and "break" the robots, putting them in difficult and dangerous positions?

If the autonomous cars sensor data is admissible in court (and I see no reason why it shouldn't be) then a few will try at first. Until they get convicted and their license taken away. I'm pretty sure a rash of revoked licenses will soon make headlines and will have an immediate effect on the other road rage drivers (not that they'll have any less rage - but they won't risk letting it out anymore. Which is good enough.)

Feb 17, 2015
What would happen ideally, and as a result will happen inevitably, is that the AI car will record the necessary info about the asshole and immediately transmit it to police. There are signs on US roads which say 'report aggressive driving'. AI will make this effective and conclusive.

And if he runs AI will follow him from car to car wherever he goes, while alerting and protecting all the cars in his path.

Feb 17, 2015
why , the google atlas terminator will step out of the self driving google car and calmly liquidate the angry driver. after this it will scoop out his brain from his skull like ice-cream and upload his mind to the google cloud so he/she will be immortal after they are murdered.

isn't that obvious?

Feb 17, 2015
And if he runs AI will follow him from car to car wherever he goes, while alerting and protecting all the cars in his path.


And then the NSA gets a carte blanche to tap into the network of driverless vehicles monitoring their surroundings and there goes another bit of privacy.

Which brings another point: no doubt Google would start using self-driving cars as a continuously updating camera vehicles for its Street View, which is a fantastic idea on paper, and a horrible idea in practice.

In the future, whenever you see a Google car, hide your face.

Feb 17, 2015
Hide your face in a motorcycle helmet. I ride a bike- I wonder if they can make driverless motorbikes? I suppose if they cannot, they will just legislate to make bikes illegal.
Expect bike sales to soar.

Feb 18, 2015
What would happen ideally, and as a result will happen inevitably, is that the AI car will record the necessary info about the asshole and immediately transmit it to police. There are signs on US roads which say 'report aggressive driving'. AI will make this effective and conclusive.

And if he runs AI will follow him from car to car wherever he goes, while alerting and protecting all the cars in his path.

Understanding that by the time self-driving cars start assuming a significant role, we will be so much more wired in. No more hiding as an anonymous driver. All the cars around you with lots of sensors, lots of cameras, well connected to the rest of the world. People who act out road rage today are the same people who would never act so to their neighbors, friends, co-workers. With whom they can't be anonymous.

Feb 18, 2015
who would never act so


Never say never.

Some portion of people will have anger management issues and will lash out to people, anonymous or not.

Feb 18, 2015
Hide your face in a motorcycle helmet.

What's that going to help? You still have a license plate.
(Yes, I have gotten tickets/speeding images on motorcycles)

I wonder if they can make driverless motorbikes?

Check out the DARPA challenge. Last time I looked (2 or 3 years ago) they had at least one motorcycle in there (granted...it fell over after a short run, but still: people are working on it)

Getting the full sensor package on a commercial motorcycle would be tricky. But I don't really see the point of autonomous motorcycles in regular traffic. It's not like you can sit back and relax on one. Shifting your weight is needed for steering. Unless they incorporate a cattle prod I don't see how that's going to work.

Feb 19, 2015
And then the NSA gets a carte blanche to tap into the network of driverless vehicles monitoring their surroundings and there goes another bit of privacy
Silly human. By 'privacy' you mean the right to cheat and steal as you see fit. It's what has made you human.

But your days are numbered. Stop signs and licence plates have already signaled your extinction. Why should cops risk their lives and endanger the public chasing you down when tech will make your arrest and punishment inevitable? Just so you might have the slim chance of escaping them like the Duke brothers or vin diesel?

Go ahead- scream NSA and big brother and Attica all you want. It just makes you sound obsolete, which you are you know.

Here's to the completion of your domestication.

Feb 21, 2015
By 'privacy' you mean the right to cheat and steal as you see fit. It's what has made you human.


By privacy I mean freedom from arbitrarly enforced standards by other people that go beyond the mutually accepted laws of the land.

You don't need to break any law to break someone else's sensibilities and get mob justice on you, and there are also enough laws with vague enough interpretations that you can indict anyone if you just follow them around for long enough. Mass surveillance simply makes this practical in the large scale - naming and shaming people for the purpose of social control.

And finally, the freedom to break the law when the law makes no sense should be upheld.

Feb 21, 2015
Even while parked, the demure little conveyance in your driveway, the milk delivery robot, or garbage collector, will be listening, sending data back to big brother. Then if a person is marked by onboard facial recognition it is only a small step for those in power to arrange an 'accident'. My question is, can a villain or government program or incite an autonomous vehicle to rageful behavior?

Feb 21, 2015
By privacy I mean freedom from arbitrarly enforced standards by other people that go beyond the mutually accepted laws of the land
Theyre arbitrarily enforced now by officers who might choose to pursue you or not, or who arent quite as good at driving as you. Also by prosecutors who might know your uncle vinny and judges who might succumb to your smooth-talking lawyer. Machines will take the arbitrary out of enforcement and this is what irks you. Human. NSA has nothing to do with it and you know it.
naming and shaming people for the purpose of social control
Mindless buzzwords empower you. Raise your fist in the air to enhance the effect.

No animal likes a cage.

Feb 21, 2015
And finally, the freedom to break the law when the law makes no sense should be upheld
Tribal law distinctly says that victimizing members of other tribes is not a crime. The law of the jungle dictates the impregnation of any female you can get your hands on. This is what makes sense to you. Human. In this context machines are the ultimate affront to common sense and personal freedom.

Too bad.

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