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Asleep at the wheel – the dangers of self-driving cars

Carly Philp – website

I was shocked to read a recent news article about a Tesla driver being caught asleep behind the wheel of a self-driving car going 93mph.

Police in Canada received a call about a Tesla speeding on the motorway.  Officers attended and said the car appeared to be in self drive mode with both front seats fully reclined and both driver and passenger sleeping.

The car was pulled over and the driver was later charged with dangerous driving.

Tesla’s website says the autopilot function will steer, accelerate and brake for the car within its lane but still needs the driver to be paying attention – adding that it does “not make the vehicle autonomous”.

In the same article, reference was made to another Tesla driver in North Carolina who crashed into a police car after allegedly watching a film while his vehicle was on autopilot.

Whilst autonomous driving or self-driving cars are not currently legal in the UK, the UK Government is running a consultation specifically focused on ALKS (Automated Lane Keeping Systems) which is the first stage towards autonomous – self-driving – cars on British roads.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said “autonomous vehicle technologies, of which automated lane keeping is the latest, will be life-changing, making our journeys safer and smoother than ever before and helping prevent some 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next decade”.

As someone who deals with people injured in road traffic accidents day-to-day, I welcome any and all new technologies which will keep road users safer.  However, after hearing the news in Canada and North Carolina, I am understandably concerned that some people may see autopilot functions as a replacement to the driver, which it isn’t.

I previously blogged about driverless cars and how we may end up in catch 22 situation with human error replaced with increased chances of malfunction.  As it happens, the human element of paying attention and not being distracted hasn’t gone anywhere and is still perhaps the biggest problem on our roads.

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