Making Self-Driving Cars More Human May Gain Drivers’ Trust

Frogeye's chromium smileThe most recent iteration of Google’s self-driving car has no gas pedal, brake, or even a steering wheel. All that’s left for the so-called driver to control are two buttons: one to start the car and one for emergency stops. Autonomous vehicles – cars that can control their own steering and speed — are expected by some engineering groups to account for up to 75% of vehicles on the road by 2040. But do people trust robot cars enough to let them take over at the wheel?

Psychological scientists Adam Waytz (Northwestern University), Joy Heafner (University of Connecticut), and Nicholas Epley (University of Chicago) found that one way to potentially improve the self-driving car experience is to make autonomous cars seem more human.

Simply giving self-driving cars in a driving simulator human-like qualities, such as simple as a name and…


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Can People Tell When They’re Too Sleepy to Drive Safely?

PAFF_111214_SleepyDriving_newsfeatureDrowsy driving may receive less media attention than drunk driving, but research shows that it’s startlingly common and can be just as dangerous as driving while drunk.

A 2010 poll from the AAA Foundation found that 41% of American drivers has fallen asleep at the wheel at least once. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year, resulting in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in damages.

Unlike drunk driving, there are no specific measures available for determining when one is too sleepy to drive safely. Instead, drivers are cautioned to assess their own levels of sleepiness and to pull over for a break when they feel too tired. But are sleepy drivers accurate in deciding when they’re just too tired to drive safely?

A team of psychological…


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How Trustworthy Is The Voice of Your GPS?

PAFF_110514_GPSvoice_newsfeatureEvery smartphone and nearly every new car on the market has some sort of GPS or in-vehicle navigation system (IVNS) that offers turn-by-turn driving directions. Many of these navigation systems even allow drivers to pick from a selection of voices. If you have a sense of humor you can get your navigation instructions from Yoda or even celebrities like Mr. T or Burt Reynolds.

One goal of the voice-based direction in IVNS is to ensure that drivers are able to keep their eyes and attention on the road while following directions. However, we often use speech to convey a wide range of social cues, and people often base judgments and decisions based on a speaker’s tone or other vocal characteristics. Previous research on machine-generated voices has found that people will often respond to non-human voices almost as though they are human, attributing…


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Risky Drivers More Likely to Ignore Road Rules Even as Pedestrians

PAFF_102914_RiskyDriversPedestrians_newsfeatureWe’ve all seen it before — distracted pedestrians who dart across the street without thinking and drivers who speed through intersections and stoplights as if they owned the road.

Depending on how you typically get around, it may be tempting to generalize about the other camp and conclude that either pedestrians or drivers are more prone to unwise behavior. But new research shows that unsafe road behavior is more about the individual person than it is about the particular mode of transport: Some people are just more likely to take risks on the road, whether they’re behind the wheel or not.

Psychological scientists Orit Taubman – Ben-Ari and Eliyahu Shay of Bar-Ilan University in Israel found that people who had a driver’s license were actually more likely to engage in dangerous road-crossing behavior, like ignoring red lights, than people without a license.…


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Does Punishing Speeders Prevent Speeding?

PAFF_102214_SpeedingPunishment_newsfeatureSpeeding leads to more car accidents worldwide than almost any other behavior behind the wheel. The World Health Organization (WHO) has cited speeding as the main cause of nearly 30% of all serious or fatal crashes across the globe.

Despite the risks of death or injury, people often admit to intentionally speeding. International studies have found that between 66% and 85% of drivers admit to exceeding speed limits. Although measures like speed traps and red-light cameras aim to cut down on speeding, it’s unclear whether these penalties actually improve behavior on the road.

A team of Spanish researchers led by Francisco Alonso looked at whether current speeding penalties actually convince people to change their behavior.

The researchers used a telephone-based survey to ask 1,100 Spanish drivers about their opinions on speeding and the effectiveness of current speeding penalties. Participants were asked how…


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