Study finds how much time operators of self-driving cars really need to react

While the last few decades have seen automakers make tremendous strides in protecting vehicle occupants involved in crashes, the last few years have seen these safety efforts shift considerably. Indeed, the focus now seems to be more on preventing car crashes altogether via so-called self-driving technology than enhancing existing safety technology.

Indeed, many there are many vehicles currently out on the roads and highways equipped with some degree of self-driving technology right now, such as cruise control systems that don't just set a speed, but also help steer the vehicle and keep it within its lane.

As fascinating as this development has been, it goes without saying that drivers of vehicles equipped with this sort of technology are in no way able to take their eyes of the road completely and, by extension, that we are still several years away from fully self-driving vehicles.

Interestingly enough, a group of researchers at the University of Leeds in England recently set out to determine how much time drivers sitting behind the wheels of vehicles that were theoretically fully self-driving would need to take command should some sort of road hazard emerge.

As part of the study, the researchers had a group of 75 volunteers, ranging from 21 to 69, take part in a series of driving simulations involving a fully automated car traveling 70 miles-per-hour in the center lane of the highway.

Here, some volunteers saw the driving simulation screen covered by fog of varying density, and/or quiz questions, while others saw nothing. After the volunteers had been exposed to the various distractions for awhile, they would disappear and a random hazard would materialize on the road ahead.

The researchers discovered that where drivers happened to be looking played a major role in their response times, with those focused on the center of the road using far less time to visually locate the road hazard and reassume control of the car than those looking around erratically.       

In light of this reality, the researchers concluded that driver alert warning systems on self-driving cars should really be designed to provide drivers with at least six seconds of advanced notice prior to reaching a hazard so that they have time to adjust visually.

It remains to be seen whether the automakers and tech giants currently working on developing self-driving cars will take the results of this truly eye-opening study into consideration. Here's hoping that this proves to be the case.

If you've been seriously injured by the negligence of another behind the wheel, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and your options for pursuing justice.

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