Britain’s first self-driving cars to be driven by ordinary people will not have any markings due to fears that aggressive drivers will try and bully them.
The Observer reports that Volvo is planning a pilot project in 2018 that will lease vehicles to regular Brits that are capable of driving autonomously.
“From the outside you won’t see that it’s a self-driving car. From a purely scientific perspective it would be interesting to have some cars that are marked as self-driving cars and some that are not and see whether other road users react in a different way,” Volvo technical leader Erik Coelingh told the paper.
“I would expect they will, but I don’t know how and to what extent. So just to be on the safe side they will all be unmarked cars. I’m pretty sure that people will challenge them if they are marked by doing really harsh braking in front of a self-driving car or putting themselves in the way.”
Is Coelingh just being paranoid? Perhaps not. A recent study found that more aggressive drivers are looking forward to seeing self-driving cars on the streets because they believe they will be able to take advantage of how scrupulously they will follow the rules of the road to cut them up and overtake them.
It makes sense: Imagine there are two cars waiting at a junction, one self-driving, and one human-driven. The self-driving car has right-of-way — but the human goes anyway. The self-driving car, programmed to protect its passengers and avoid harming other drivers, will stop itself — letting the aggressive human driver go.
Of course, this kind of behaviour
is illegal. But that doesn’t stop some drivers from defying the rules of the road today. Faced with a predictable autonomous vehicle with lightning-fast reflexes, it will likely encourage this behaviour even more.
One UK-based participant told the study’s researchers: “[The autonomous vehicles are] going to stop. So you’re going to mug them right off. They’re going to stop and you’re just going to nip round.”
Another person reiterated the expectation that self-driving cars will be totally law-abiding: “We’ll be overwhelmed by niceness. They’re never going to do anything horrible to us. They’re nice cars. They’re not going to cut us up or get up our backsides and all the other things.”
Roger Geffen, who works for cycling body CTC, told The Guardian that “if pedestrians and cyclists can run or swerve out in front of cars knowing they will stop, some people will doubtless take advantage of this. That would infuriate drivers, leading to calls for jay-walking and on-road cycling to be banned altogether.”
The Volvo pilot hopes to sidestep this problem altogether by disguising the fact that the vehicles are self-driving. So two years from now, you could be overtaking one, and not even know it.