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Drivers are more likely than vehicles to take the fall in autonomous vehicle mishaps

Researchers found that consumers are more likely to blame other people instead of the cars

Photo (c) Olivier Le Moal - Getty Images
Though consumer confidence around autonomous vehicles has been shaky, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter found that a change of heart could be possible. The findings revealed that drivers are more likely than their autonomous vehicles to get the blame in instances where both have made mistakes. 

“We find that when only one driver makes an error, that driver is blamed more regardless of whether that driver is a machine or human,” the researchers wrote. “However, when both drivers make errors in cases of human-machine shared-control vehicles, the blame attributed to the malfunctioning is reduced.” 

Ultimately, the researchers believe that these findings are important, as they could shape the future of autonomous vehicle manufacturer regulations or potential liability outcomes in court cases.   

Pointing fingers

As autonomous vehicle technology continues to advance, the researchers conducted this study to get a better gauge on how consumers would respond to hypothetical scenarios involving a combination of human drivers and autonomous vehicles. For the purposes of this study, the researchers associated autonomous vehicles as ones that had human drivers but were controlled and maneuvered by a setting similar to autopilot on airplanes. 

The researchers posed several scenarios to consumers and asked them to consider who would be at fault in various instances. In some cases,  the drivers were at fault; in others, the cars were at fault; in still others, both were at fault. Many of these hypotheticals could be expected with the introduction of semi-autonomous vehicles. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that consumers are more willing to place the blame for accidents or mishaps on human drivers over autonomous vehicles, particularly when both had messed up. These findings are interesting because several recent studies have touted consumers’ skepticism surrounding autonomous vehicle technology, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in this most recent study. 

In instances where both drivers and cars made mistakes on the road, the study participants pointed fingers at the human drivers more often and let the autonomous vehicles off the hook. According to the researchers, this could potentially affect future safety features on these vehicles and sway the public perception should cases like these be put in front of a jury. 

“It seems like if we leave it to the general public, they may unintentionally go soft on [autonomous vehicle] manufacturers to improve their safety standards,” said researcher Dr. Edmond Awad. 

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