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What will people do in self-driving cars? Turns out, mostly worry

September 21, 2016
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ANN ARBOR—Safety and mobility are cited as the chief advantages of self-driving vehicles, but productivity may be another. Or maybe not, say University of Michigan researchers.

“Currently, in the U.S., the average occupant of a light-duty vehicle spends about an hour a day traveling—time that could potentially be put to more productive use,” said Michael Sivak, research professor at the U-M Transportation Research Institute. “Indeed, increased productivity is one of the expected benefits of self-driving vehicles.”

The question, then, is what would people do with that extra hour if they did not have to sit behind the wheel. Turns out, mostly worry.


Researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle asked that question in 2014, of 3,255 people from the United States, Australia, China, India, Japan and the United Kingdom.

According to their data, nearly 66 percent of Japanese, 64 percent of Australians, and nearly 40 percent of Indians say they would be so apprehensive that they would not attempt any activities in such vehicles.

Nearly 50 percent of Indian respondents say they would engage in activities that will increase the frequency and severity of motion sickness whereas only 26 percent of respondents from Japan mentioned they would take part in such activities.self-driving

Among different activities in self-driving cars, about 21 percent of Chinese respondents say they will talk with their friends and family, 16 percent of Indians will work and 8 percent of U.K. respondents will read.

The researchers also note that the average vehicle trip is short (about 19 minutes)—a rather short duration for sustained productive activity or invigoration sleep.

They say that hoped-for increased productivity in self-driving vehicles would materialize only if the following are achieved:

(1) An increased confidence of occupants in self-driving vehicles,

(2) Addressing the inherent motion-sickness problem; and

(3) Solving occupant-protection issues related to nontraditional seating positions and postures, and untethered objects becoming projectiles during crashes

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