Can self-driving cars create more drunk drivers?

| Jan 30, 2020 | DUI |

A Forbes article argues that smart cars may make drunk drivers more dangerous and common, at least for the near future.

The author believes technology is now creating an era of especially hazardous drunk driving that will continue until more advanced autonomous cars are common.

How autonomous is your car?

The Society of Automotive Engineers (now SAE International) invented a six-level scheme for car autonomy:

  • Level 0 is the traditional car you need to accelerate or brake and steer constantly.
  • Level 1 offers one type of help such as steering or speed control, but not more than one kind.
  • Level 2 lets the car steer, brake and accelerate with the driver’s hands and feet ready to change lanes, avoid crashes, etc.
  • Level 3 drives the car but alerts the driver if the car sees something it cannot handle.
  • Level 4 is an almost driverless car that may need a driver for, for example, side roads but not highways.
  • Level 5 is fully automated with no need for a driver except maybe to choose parking spots or the like.

Level 1 and 2 cars are increasingly popular and some Level 3s are now on the road.

Drunk driving could be more tempting in a more advanced car

The columnist thinks Level 3 cars will “create a false impression for those in a drunken state of mind,” leading them to make their car the “designated driver.”

Another worry is automated cars encouraging more alcohol-impaired people to ride them home. Once in the car, the alcohol could trick them into thinking they are “good to drive.”

Cars may convince people to let them drive

Although the Forbes writer “wagers” his predictions will come true, good evidence for the dangers of mid-level automation is growing.

The AAA Foundation released the results of its study of how real drivers act. It showed that certain features increasingly popular and available in Level 3 cars may spell trouble.

The cars bring on something called “automation complacency,” where we gradually allow machines to lull us into letting them do the job.

It happens even to the best of us. Well-trained professional airplane pilots, astronauts, surgeons and soldiers know the effects of automation complacency from years of experience.

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