What would it be like to be a pedestrian in an urban neighbourhood where most of the cars are self-driving? Actually, pretty good, suggests new research.
Self-driving cars are by design risk-averse and they are programmed to obey the rules of the road, including waiting for pedestrians to cross, the researchers said.
“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to transform travel behaviour,” said study author Adam Millard-Ball, Assistant Professor at the University of California – Santa Cruz, US.
Secure in the knowledge that a car will yield, pedestrians merely need to act unpredictably or step into the street to force the risk-averse car to stop, said the study that looked at the prospect of urban areas where a majority of vehicles are “autonomous” or self-driving.
The research, published online in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, uses game theory to analyse the interactions between pedestrians and self-driving vehicles, with a focus on yielding at crosswalks.
Because autonomous vehicles are by design risk-averse, Millard-Ball’s model suggests that pedestrians will be able to act with impunity, and he thinks autonomous vehicles may facilitate a shift towards pedestrian-oriented urban neighbourhoods.
However, the study also suggests that the potential benefits of self-driving cars — avoiding the tedium of traffic and trauma of collisions — may be outweighed by the drawbacks of an always play-it-safe vehicle that slows traffic for everybody.
“From the point of view of a passenger in an automated car, it would be like driving down a street filled with unaccompanied five-year-old children,” Millard-Ball wrote.