Why Driverless Cars Could Become a Target for Road Bullies

Autonomous vehicles will have to learn the written and unwritten rules of the road to integrate with human drivers.

It's a jungle out there on US roads. There's a  near-constant jockeying for position as  everyone attempts to get where they're going  as fast as they can via overcrowded highways  and streets.
In reality, drivers all exist  somewhere along a spectrum,  with the unnecessarily  aggressive on one end, the  overly cautious on the other, and the rest falling  somewhere in between. Drivers are constantly  processing information and anticipating what their fellow motorists may do based on a variety of  factors, often without consciously thinking about  it.
Whether we want to admit it or not, most of us  size up other drivers based on their age, sex, race,  and the vehicle they're driving. For example, if you  spot a young person driving an expensive sports  car, you may deduce—based on your own  attitudes and their actions—that they're either a  reckless ne'er-do-well or a timid teen out joyriding  in their parents' vehicles.
Most experienced drivers innately assess such  situations, but they will soon have to contend with  autonomous vehicles (AVs) being thrown into the  mix . Like humans, AVs will have to react to the  actions of other drivers, but also other drivers'  reaction to them. More aggressive drivers could  take advantage of AVs' hesitancy, while others  may not know how to socially relate to robo-cars.  Things could become really complicated,  according to a recent study.
Bullying Robo-Cars
Perhaps not surprisingly, a study from The London School of Economics and Goodyear found that  AVs could be easily bullied by more assertive  drivers. But the survey also found that so-called "cooperative" drivers—those who "see driving more as a social activity and enjoy the interaction with  other drivers on the road"—are actually more  apprehensive about self-driving cars.
The survey's "driving sociability" index used the  common scenario of letting another driver cut in  front of you—or cutting in front of another driver —as cars merge into a single lane as a gauge of  whether someone would be considered more a "cooperative" road user. Ninety percent of those  who landed in the top half of the driving sociability scale said they would never or only occasionally  cut the line.
But of the more "combative" half, 42 percent, said  that they would "sometimes, usually, or always"  cut in on another driver. And aggressive drivers  would feel even less remorse about cutting off an  autonomous vehicle, while more social drivers may not know how to deal with a robo-car.
"If you view the road as a social space, you will  consciously negotiate your journey with other  drivers," the survey said. "People who like that  negotiation process appear to feel less  comfortable engaging with AVs than with human  drivers.

Driverless Cars: When the Internet Takes the Wheel
"By contrast," the survey added, "the people more  open to AVs are those who have a more  'combative' view of the road, who perhaps see AVs as easier agents to deal with on the road than  other humans." The more aggressive drivers who  responded to the survey said they're more likely to deal with self-driving cars the way they would with "learner drivers." One respondent replied, "I'll be  overtaking [them] all the time because they'll be  sticking to the rules."
The study also points out that it's not only  aggressive drivers who may try to punk AVs.  Pedestrians and cyclists could also take advantage  of the fact that AVs prioritize safety and dash out  in front of them. And this could cause problems  for AV developers in deciding how the robo-cars  should react.
So AVs will not only have to learn the written and  unwritten rules of the road, but also include in  their calculations the body language, facial  expressions, and the occasional … um, emphatic  gesture of other drivers and road users.


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