With the increasing prevalence of autonomous technologies in daily life, certain industries are changing at a more rapid rate than others. Self-driving cars are taking up a lot of the spotlight, with big companies like Google, Tesla, and Uber (as well as numerous traditional auto manufacturers) pursuing the development of autonomous vehicles. While the Australian National Roads and Motorists' Association concluded in a 2017 study that drivers' licences will eventually become obsolete, there's still a long way to go before robot cars are really in control. One major issue is that the technology has not yet reached the point where the cars are capable of handling all situations, so human drivers still need to be ready to take the wheel at any moment. The NRMA predicts that "high level autonomous vehicles will arrive in Australia as early as 2020", so drivers need to be prepared, quickly.
Generations of Autonomous Cars
As autonomous cars develop, different levels are assigned to the car, depending on the sophistication of the self-driving system. For example, level zero means that the car has no automation. In contrast, a level five autonomous car would be one in which the driver only needs to enter a destination, and the car does the rest. A level five car may not even have a steering wheel. The cars in between, at levels two to four, are the ones that human drivers will need to learn how to operate. The issue that arises is that as cars become more sophisticated, and handle more of the driving process themselves, human drivers become less attentive. This can become dangerous, when a situation appears that the car cannot handle; the driver must be ready to take over from the autonomous system, sometimes at a moment's notice, to avoid an accident.
The capabilities that drivers will need to learn to operate these vehicles, are in many cases similar to what a driver learns already. However, drivers will need to be taught a new set of skills, in which the risks of operating an autonomous car are brought to their attention. Drivers will need to learn how to operate and disable new systems, deal with situations in which driverless cars cannot operate (such as dust storms, heavy rain, or fog), and know what to do when a bug in the driving system arises. The biggest risk to the driver, however, is complacency, in which they assume that the car is more capable than it really is.
Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, predicts that motoring will become exponentially safer, with human error removed from the equation. But the first fatal crash in a Tesla autonomous car was found to have occurred because the autopilot sensor could not distinguish a white truck-trailer from a bright white sky, and the driver was not paying attention. These types of skills and discipline will need to be taught to a new generation of motorists, who will be increasingly likely to rely on at least some autopilot and autonomous driving features. Uber has released a training program to the drivers of its semi-autonomous vehicles, with it's goal being "to ensure that Vehicle Operators are able to smoothly transition between any operations with advanced driver assistance systems engaged and manual driving." First, drivers are taught to deal with test error scenarios on a closed course, and slowly build up to driving on public roads with experienced autonomous vehicle operators. Much like traditional driving schools, a certain number of hours of training are accrued before the driver can operate the vehicle alone, albeit with "a combination of advanced driver assistance systems and constant human oversight".
While autonomous cars will no doubt improve road safety, and will also rapidly reduce business transport costs, there are a number of factors that need to be considered. While we move through the phase in which drivers are still required to be mentally present in these vehicles, they will need to be equipped with the skills to handle them from a driving school. Check out local driving schools to help you stay more safe in your traditional car as well as to prepare you for the future of the auto industry.