Driverless car trials are underway in four locations across the UK but will a recent study by a US university put the brakes on them?
The University of Michigan has recently revealed that travel sickness could prove to be a problem in the automated vehicles. They predict a rise of more than 27% in the number of people suffering from nausea, dizziness and vomiting when travelling in driverless cars.
Advocates of the new self-driving vehicles argue that they will reduce road traffic accidents in the UK. One of the other expected benefits, depending how you look at it, is that a driver’s time will be freed up from controlling the car. The new study suggests that this might not be a given if drivers need to regain control of the vehicle to make emergency roadside stops due to sickness.
Between 26 and 30% of UK drivers surveyed as part of the study said that if they didn’t have to take the wheel in driverless cars they would spend their time reading, working, watching films or texting on their mobile phones. All of these activities are known to increase the likelihood and severity of motion sickness.
Motion sickness often happens when the brain gets different signals from the eye and from the inner ear, which helps controls balance. Symptoms can also be caused by not being able to control the direction of movement so the chances of feeling sick behind the wheel is more likely if a driver hasn’t got his or her hands on it.
As the University of Michigan says, “By switching from driver to passenger, by definition, one gives up control over the direction of motion, and there are no remedies for this.”
A workaround has been suggested by the university for people risking travel sickness by working on a laptop or watching TV in a driverless car. They say the technology used to ‘move’ screens to imitate the car accelerating, braking and turning could reduce the chances of motion sickness.
With the results of this study raising more questions about driverless cars, I think there is still much deliberation to be had over making these available to the general public. Who would be held responsible if a car sick "driver" was unable to avert an emergency because of motion sickness? The legal implications of widespread use of driverless cars are many and varied and, as yet, lack clarity.
Jane Cooper is a Senior Personal Injury Lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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