— A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) concludes that humans will still be responsible for driving chores even as driverless cars are introduced to the highways.
The report was paid for by the State Farm insurance company and written by Jim Hedlund, a former senior official at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Researchers looked at how autonomous vehicles will function based on different levels of technology and the fact the newest driverless cars will be sharing the roads with older vehicles that lack autonomy.
According to the report, researchers concluded what others have: Self-driving cars will eventually help cut down on crash incidents, but multiple issues must be addressed before that can happen.
The GHSA examined potential problems and how those problems should be addressed as well as who or what will be at fault in certain situations.
For example, automakers and the government should consider the possibility of an unlicensed driver starting a driverless car without the driver having the knowledge to take control of the car if necessary.
There are also concerns about criminals that could bring a self-driving car to a stop to rob the passengers and how the cars will respond to police commands.
Other issues are mentioned in the report, including how autonomous technology will decide if the car should hit a pedestrian or swerve into an obstacle. In other words, the car must decide if it should take out a jogger in exchange for slamming into a parked truck where the driverless car occupants could be killed.
Then there are further determinations to be made about who or what is at fault and whether the driver or the car should be blamed legally.
Researchers are also concerned by mistakes humans make when behind the wheel of vehicles equipped with semi-autonomous features. There are legitimate concerns about consumers buying cars with certain levels of autonomy so the drivers can read a cell phone or perform other tasks while driving.
Real-life examples have already occurred with the death of an Arizona woman struck and killed by an Uber self-driving car. Video of the crash showed the driver looking down and away from the road at the time of the crash.
In addition, a Tesla lawsuit was filed by a woman who was reading her cell phone when the car slammed into a fire vehicle at 60 mph because she allegedly believed the car would always stop for objects.
NHTSA and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) designate automation by five levels, with Level 2 vehicles containing features that can maintain speed and lane position.
Level 3 cars can take control in some situations but will warn drivers when to take control, but the technology has some automakers worried because drivers may be too distracted to quickly take control of the cars.
Finally, Level 4 driverless vehicles can take control for entire trips, and Level 5 cars will be able to accomplish the same thing without human occupants.
The Governors Highway Safety Association takes the position that states should encourage driverless car testing, but there must be regulations and oversight for those tests.
According to the report, drivers should be required to know all about the limitations and capabilities of autonomous technology, possibly through state driver education and licensing programs.