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Drivers are quick to accept and grow comfortable with fully autonomous vehicles, however they are not quick enough to take back control in an emergency scenario. Professor Sarah Sharples from the faculty of engineering at Nottingham University presented evidence proving it at the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee recently.

Sharples said: “One of the most important things we need to understand is how increasing levels of autonomy in the driving task will effect being able to respond to an emergency scenario. Work is being done to develop display in order to help drivers maintain situational awareness.”

Drivers were asked to come and sit in a driving simulator at the university every day for five days for a 30-minute period with a motorway route set to mimic their daily commute. They were told the vehicle would be put into fully autonomous mode after two or three minutes from setting off.

On day four of the five day study an emergency handover request would randomly ask passengers to react to take back manual control of the vehicle.

According to, the researchers identified that none of the drivers in the test were monitoring the vehicle’s display which would show the emergency handover notification, and there was panic when they did realise they needed to start driving again. The driver with reader glasses wasn’t able to take them off quickly enough to before taking back the wheel.

Sharples said: “This is a small example but it highlights the need for a deeper understanding of what the different scenarios might be, how long the window is between the emergency handover request and a human taking back control and the type of information given to drivers in the build up to that happening”.

She recommended to the committee there should be a mixed method approach to future research using simulators and full scale trials on the road to get an understanding of new technology. quoted Transport Minister John Hayes who emphasised the fact that while automated vehicles are expected to enable more car sharing, resulting in reduced congestion and vehicle emissions, this could in fact prove to be a more attractive option than other modes of public transport, leading to a modal shift among travelers.

One needs to take in mind the fact that the British Government has already injected £19 million into automated projects and has £100m in the form of an Intelligent Mobility Fund to aid similar projects.

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s recent autumn statement recently earmarked £23 billion to be spent on transport innovation and infrastructure over the next five years, including £2bn per year by 2020 for research and development funding.