AgeLab Research Scientist Bruce Mehler was invited to speak as part of a panel in Geneva, Switzerland on the issue of driver safety and vehicle automation for the Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety, part of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Inland Transport Committee. The session for which he presented was titled “Automation in Transport: Safe deployment of automated vehicles in traffic.” Attended by representatives from governmental agencies and technology companies from around the world, the session focused on understanding issues related to the introduction of automated technologies in vehicles to inform the development of globally harmonized regulations to promote the safe operation of automated vehicles.
Mr. Mehler provided an overview of the AgeLab’s AVT and AHEAD consortia and spoke about driver distraction in the context of increasing vehicle automation. The story of increasing distraction in the context of automation is not new; an early and often overlooked example of the introduction of automation within vehicles was the automatic transmission, which provided drivers with increased freedom to perform non-driving activities while behind the wheel. But the tradeoff between reduced operational workload and increased distraction has taken on an increased urgency with the advent of advanced driver assistance systems that can have the effect themselves of pulling drivers’ eyes away from the road. AgeLab-led AHEAD research suggests that there is a need to shift perspective away from a narrow focus on driver distraction—emphasizing the banning of certain technologies and activities—toward a broader context of attention management—that is, developing technologies that actively support drivers in maintaining sufficient attention to the road to drive safely given the level of automation being engaged in the vehicle.