Driver's licenses for self-driving cars?

October 28, 2015 by Bernie Degroat, University of Michigan

Just like people, self-driving vehicles should be required to pass a licensing test, say University of Michigan researchers.

Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the U-M Transportation Research Institute say that most driver-licensing tests evaluate three aspects of driving readiness: visual performance, knowledge of rules and regulations related to driving and traffic in general, and driving-related psychomotor skills.

They suggest several arguments in support of the idea:

  • Sensing hardware, spatial maps and algorithms will vary among manufacturers of , resulting in variability of onroad performance—as is the case with people.
  • Visual and sensing performance of self-driving vehicles in inclement weather is not yet sufficient.
  • Visual pattern recognition is a potential problem for current sensing systems in self-driving vehicles (e.g., recognizing downed power lines or flooded roadways).
  • Current self-driving vehicles have not yet been tested thoroughly under a variety of demanding conditions (e.g., in snow).
  • Onroad performance of some current self-driving vehicles is not yet perfect, even in good weather.
  • Self-driving vehicles will face, on rare occasions, ethical dilemmas in their decisionmaking.

Sivak and Schoettle say that for self-driving vehicles—in contrast to inexperienced human drivers—experience under one set of conditions that requires certain hardware or software capabilities does not improve performance under a different set of conditions that requires different hardware or software capabilities.

"Therefore, the underlying logic for the use of graduated driver licensing systems with novice young drivers does not apply to self-driving vehicles," Sivak said. "A self-driving either has the hardware and software to deal with a particular situation or it does not. If it does not, experience in other situations will not be of benefit.

"On the other hand, the GDL approach would be applicable should a manufacturer explicitly decide to limit the operation of its vehicles to certain conditions, until improved hardware or software become available."

For example, a manufacturer might feel confident that its vehicles could handle all situations except nighttime and snow. In such a situation, after passing a licensing test related to the limited , the vehicle would be given a provisional license that would exclude nighttime driving and driving in snow. A full license could then be obtained once future updates to or software are developed and made available, and the updated vehicle passes an unrestricted licensing test.

Explore further: Majority prefer driverless technology

Related Stories

Majority prefer driverless technology

July 22, 2015

While only a small percentage of drivers say they would be completely comfortable in a driverless car, a sizable amount would have no problem as long as they retain some control, according to a University of Michigan report.

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

Paleontologists report world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex

March 22, 2019

University of Alberta paleontologists have just reported the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada. The 13-metre-long T. rex, nicknamed "Scotty," lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.