Should People Without Licenses Be Allowed To 'Drive' Autonomous Cars?

Illustration for article titled Should People Without Licenses Be Allowed To Drive Autonomous Cars?

Self-driving vehicles are starting to appear on our streets, and it'll only be a matter of time before they're commonplace. Which brings up an interesting question: Just who, exactly, should — or should not — be allowed behind the wheel?

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This question was recently posed by the fine folks at the Open Roboethics Initiative via Robohub who recently conducted a survey to find out. They asked three questions:

  1. Should a child under the legal driving age be allowed to ride driverless cars alone?
  2. Should a senior who no longer has a legal driver's license be allowed to ride driverless cars alone?
  3. Should a legally blind person be allowed to ride driverless cars alone?

Here are the results in piechart form:

Illustration for article titled Should People Without Licenses Be Allowed To Drive Autonomous Cars?
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Illustration for article titled Should People Without Licenses Be Allowed To Drive Autonomous Cars?
Illustration for article titled Should People Without Licenses Be Allowed To Drive Autonomous Cars?

On the issue of children, ORi had this to say:

About half of the participants (52%) said that children under the legal driving age should not be able to ride driverless cars. This is not entirely surprising. Currently, under driving regulations, children under a certain age (typically late teen years) are not allowed to drive cars because we have reasons to believe that it is not entirely safe to let them drive. By allowing a child to ride autonomous cars alone, people may be concerned about scenarios where the car makes an error or requires the assistance of a human decision-maker during an emergency situation. Interestingly, 38% of the participants believe that children should be able to ride driverless cars alone and the other 10% also think that children should be able to drive autonomous cars with proven technology and specific training. This brings us to a fairly even split in opinion on the issue of children driving autonomous vehicles.

The results may not mean that 48% of the participants would be comfortable putting a newborn baby in an autonomous car to be delivered to his/her grandparents' house. But it could mean that with a proven technology and some training, the legal driving age could be lowered for 'driving' autonomous cars. It makes sense that a shift in driving age would depend on the capability and reliability of the technology. For example, if all cars today had a high probability of breaking down in the middle of the road, then our driver's license exams may have included a preliminary car mechanics test.

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There's much more at Robohub, including commentary and insight into the issue of the elderly and blind riding in driverless cars.

My two cents: Absolutely yes to the blind. And a conditional yes to the elderly and children. Elderly people suffering from a neurodegenerative disorder and children above a certain age (say, 12 years old) should be allowed to ride alone in driverless cars so long as the requisite oversight technologies are in place. For example, parents and caregivers must be held responsible for their journey by tracking the progress of the vehicle and ensuring that a waiting party is there for their arrival.

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Image: Irina Papoyan/Shutterstock.

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DISCUSSION

Kinda surprised to see intoxicated drivers not included in the mix.

If we're letting children and blind people drive (ride, really) in driverless cars, it stands to reason that we could let drunks ride in them as well.

My only concern would be implementation - assuming there's no manual override available on the car, then it's not an issue - but if a person has the ability to take over and drive manually, that ability would have to be disabled on a per-person basis for children and the blind.

But drunks...that's a tricky one. The regulatory apparatus would have to draw some legal distinction between a drunk sleeping in their car with the keys in their possession - a situation in which they are not driving, but can still be charged with a DUI - and a person riding in a driverless car. Does that person have to be deprived of the ability to switch to manual mode in order to not be considered "potentially driving under the influence"? Sitting in the backseat? What would it take?

Perhaps you could give the driver the ability to engage a time-lock on manual operation that exceeds the amount of time it would take for them to sleep it off - i.e. they punch in a code at the beginning of the night that disables manual driving for 24 hours. They get pulled over, the car can easily display that manual driving is disabled for the next X hours and X minutes, and the driver goes on their merry way home. Might raise liability concerns though. I can see the lawsuit now - "My manual drive was disabled, and I couldn't drive my loved one to the hospital fast enough!", etc.

It's an interesting question - and I think one worth considering, given the number of lives it could save.