To regain control of an autonomous vehicle, you better be a woman

Women do better than men when it is necessary to regain manual control of an automated vehicle in an emergency. This is what emerges from a study by Newcastle Engineering University.

If an emergency requires taking manual control of an autonomous vehicle, you better be a woman. Newcastle University of Engineering wanted to study the differences between men and women concerning the takeover of an automated vehicle. In a long paper published on the website of the scientific journal Naturethe researchers point out that the automated cars are likely to reduce road accidents; collisions and congestion or to reduce emissions. They can also promote social inclusion by improving the mobility of the elderly or people with disabilities.

Car enthusiasts may already know that there are different levels of autonomous driving. There are no less than six levels of autonomy, ranging from level 0 to level 5. The first degree means that the driver remains in control of his vehicle and controls everything; can nevertheless be assisted by certain driving assistance options. Conversely, level 5 offers full automation in all possible situations.

The different levels of autonomy of a vehicle

Between the two, we find intermediate levels such as level 3 which offers a kind of “semi-autonomy”. The driving experience then changes dramatically, allowing the car to perform certain tasks on its own. The driver is then authorized to release the steering wheel, but must be able to regain control at any time. He must therefore keep a certain attention on what is happening on the road.

Not all countries are in the same boat on this issue, particularly in France. In France, only level 2 autonomy is officially authorized and is close to assisted driving. However, the situation will change and it will be very soon possible to use level 3 of autonomous driving in France. Authorized since July 14 in Europe, the use of an automatic pilot system will be possible from 1er September on our roads. To learn more about this small revolution, you can consult this article.

Women have a shorter reaction time…

This return to the different levels of autonomous driving helps to better understand the study carried out by researchers from the University of Newcastle. The issue of regaining control is an important topic and we see that the framework remains very strict. In addition to a desire to regain control to switch to manual driving; the system can deal with situations that go beyond these skills. This is where human drivers come in and our reflexes aren’t just related to our age.

the driver’s sex has a real influence on how he will react. Differences in behavior have already been identified in many accidents, as the researchers explain. Women and men also tend to not perceive the risk in the same way and do not always show the same level of confidence behind the wheel. If many factors have already proven differences in behavior; little research has focused on manual control of an automated vehicle.

…and better vehicle control than men

On the strength of this observation, the faculty of Newcastle wished to rectify the situation. In her study, she is particularly interested in drivers of level 3 automated vehicles. The researchers claim to have observed marked differences between women and men when it comes to regaining manual control. “In general, women show better takeover performance than men”, can we read in conclusion. Women have a lower percentage of “hasty takeovers” and “significantly faster reactions” when the system asks to take over. The study also reveals that female drivers “demonstrated much greater stability behind the wheel” during the manual takeover process.

For researchers, this study provides useful knowledge. She helps to better understand gender differences in how to interact with a level 3 driving system. “The results of this study also underscore the importance of considering gender when researching and designing automated vehicles.”, says the research team. She sweeps away certain clichés about women driving by demonstrating “that women are able to use and interact with level 3 automated vehicles better than men”.

Note that the study has its limitations. Indeed, the performance level of the participants was examined using a driving simulator. In real world conditions, other factors can come into play and change a driver’s behavior. Finally, there would be serious consequences if drivers were unable to regain control.

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