BERLIN, GERMANY — Traveling in vehicles with self-driving technology is experienced as more stressful by passengers than journeys with regular cars, a study published on Monday by the Kempten University of Applied Sciences finds.
“We wanted to explore how the car of the future would have to be designed in order for humans to be able to trust their vehicle”, study author Bernhard Schick explained the motivation behind his research to press.
Contrary to widely-received popular wisdom, however, existing technologies for autonomous driving appear to be perceived as a factor which causes additional stress instead of being seen as a useful aid.
Schick arrived at this surprising conclusion by conducting experiments with 50 study participants, aged between 18 and 65 years, who were monitored while they drove cars with modern lane-keeping-systems. These systems are designed to ensure drivers to not swerve from their lane when they lose concentration, for example due to fatigue.
“Stress levels rose in all test persons as soon as the lane-keeping system was activated”, Corinna Seidler, a psychologist involved in the experiments, summarized the results.
Seidler explained that this circumstance mainly owed to the unfamiliar feeling of surrendering control over a fast-driving car to a machine, as well as a remaining tendency of the system to fail in certain circumstances. She consequently opined that it would be a while until lane-keeping systems, let alone fully-autonomous vehicles, were able to provide a sufficient sense of security to passengers.
Similarly, Schick said that, at least for now, the technology was “not advanced enough” to guarantee that accidents could be prevented entirely. Although studies have predicted that a rise in the number of self-driving cars on streets will lead to a lower traffic-related death toll, such optimistic claims are not uncontested among experts.
Nevertheless, German traffic law already makes limited provisions for the use of self-driving vehicles for test purposes on the country’s highways. Additionally, a partially government-funded new research facility, which has been labelled as Germany’s “most modern center for autonomous driving” and will cost 15 million euros (18.47 million U.S. dollars) in total construction costs, is scheduled to open in Bavaria in 2019.