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Would you trust a driverless car with the school run?

Technology and Business

Alice Salter

Alice Salter

16-11-2020

       

The most tech-savvy among us may be ready to hop into a driverless car but, given the amount of time and energy they could save us, we thought we’d ask whether some of the busiest people we know feel the same

As all our lives become increasingly busy, autonomous vehicles are starting to look like the perfect solution for many. Less time carrying out errands, more time to use how you like while travelling and less stress on the road are all possible outcomes of the tech. But to reap the benefits, we have to be prepared for AVs to become a regular part of how we get around.

 

With that in mind , we asked two New Jersey mums what they think of driverless technology, how AVs might change their lives and whether they’re ready to accept them. As parents are generally incredibly busy people – juggling work, childcare and all the errands which come with both – they’re perfectly placed to benefit from the time-saving tech, but we know that entrusting your children to anyone, or anything, is a particularly sensitive issue. Emma*, a mum of two, and May, a mum of three, share their thoughts below.

 

What do you already know about driverless vehicles?

 

May: I know very little about them right now. I know that there are a few that have been tested successfully, yet recall an incident that caused a fatal crash.

Emma: Not very much. Just that there will be improved technology available that will allow for driverless vehicles. Unfortunately, the media in the US has showcased examples wherein there have been accidents with driverless vehicles – I remember the stories of one that Uber was experimenting with  – casting a doubt of safety. 

 

Are there driverless vehicles in your area? How do you think they’ll arrive – as personally owned vehicles, rented like an Uber, or as a form of public transport?

 

E: No there aren’t any where I live yet, that I’m aware of, and if it is then it is very limited. But, if the technology is advanced and there is a way to 100% ensure there will be no accidents then yes I can see utility for all these areas.  

M: I haven’t seen any in my area either, nor have I ever ridden in one, but I imagine they’ll arrive as an on demand service like an Uber, or more broadly used as public transportation.

Taxi 2025ad with child
Source: Unspash.com

Would you trust an autonomous vehicle to keep your children safe?

 

E: No, for me there have been too many publicized accidents already with the very limited use of these vehicles. It will be difficult as a mother with small children to ever trust this technology because if something were to happen, I would never forgive myself. If it’s you driving, you can blame yourself, but when you delegate this responsibility to a technology and something bad happens, it is a decision and guilt you cannot overcome. With your kids, it’s not worth taking any chances. As a mother there is a sense of peace when you drop them off to their destination and drive away. There is a feeling of knowing they are safely there and will be there when I pick them up. I just wouldn’t have that with this technology and any trade off in convenience is not worth it for me.

M: I agree, I wouldn’t trust them yet. It would take years of broad testing, similar to my expectations for new medicine, to ensure its safety first. The benefits of convenience would have to outweigh the potential safety risks. If everyone was in a self-driving car, perhaps it would be safer, but there are too many random behaviors by ‘live’ drivers that make me concerned that an AV would not know how to safety respond. 

 


Trusting driverless tech can be a challenge when the dangers associated with them are unlike anything we’ve experienced on the road so far. Find out more about the threat of hacking as we ask ‘Will driverless cars be safe from cyber-attacks?’


 

What would be the biggest advantage of self-driving cars for you personally?

 

M: For me, the biggest advantage is service and getting back time to do other things rather than driving. I spend a lot of time driving my kids places – school, friends, shopping – so having an AV would help to facilitate these tasks. On the flip side, while it would give me back some time, I would miss some of the quality one-on-one time I have when driving my kids places.

E: Yes, it would free up time to do other things, avoid putting mileage on our cars, reduce our frequency of getting gasoline, and keep our cars newer for longer. It could allow a working mother to do things she would have difficulty managing in the morning like exercise, mindfulness, getting lunches together too.

trust and a child 2025AD-1
Unspash.com

What would you do with that extra free time?

 

E: Likely worry about whether the driverless vehicle is in a crash or hit a pedestrian! I would try to get my daily duties done if the worries had subsided. A great use for the driverless car is to run errands like dropping this at the post office, grocery shopping, etc.

M: Yikes, probably work more. Hopefully exercise outdoors more. There is always something to do, but at least driving would not be on the list!

 

What sort of features would you like to see in your driverless car? 

 

E: Safety features that ensure the car cannot crash into anyone or anything. The ability to monitor the car remotely and check things like speed and location. If you have small children – typically there are safety locks on car doors for them – the doors of the car would need to automatically open so they can get out of the car and get to their destination. 

M: Outside of day to day use, I would consider longer trips in the AV – trips that I typically reserve only for flights – so therefore I would like to have features such as ergonomically enhanced chairs that enable me to comfortably sit and sleep, amenities for food and beverages and entertainment like on a first-class flight. I would want to make sure that the driverless car was always at least two to three car lengths away from others for safety and would rather travel on highways where trucks were not allowed too. 

 

In the end it is trust which is the main obstacle for both Emma and May. Of all the stumbling blocks in the way of mass acceptance of autonomous vehicles – including legal issues, technical advancement, safety and more – trust is key. Without it, users simply will not choose to use the technology and so widespread acceptance will be delayed. In Emma and May’s responses we can see how just one fatal accident can harm trust for years. Though the fatal Uber accident happened in 2018, the damage on public perception remains.

 

Yet we know that accidents, even fatal ones, are part of technological advancement and have been overcome in previous developments. Trust is often slow to develop with new technology, yet when something new proves useful, acceptance soon follows. Many were afraid of rail travel at the start of the 19th century, fearing travel at speeds of 30mph could do real harm, yet trains soon became one of the greatest markers of progress. The same is true for automation – just think of all the many and varied processes we entrust to robots today. The same will be true of autonomous vehicles.

 

* Name changed for privacy

 

We’re eager to know what you think too. Would you trust an autonomous vehicle to keep your children safe? What would you use any extra free time for? What features would you like to see on your driverless car? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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