Toyota Canada and the Traffic Injury Research Foundations ask the wrong people the wrong questions

 To read the entire report, click  here .

To read the entire report, click here.

The Toyota Canada Foundation recently funded a project by the Canada's Traffic Injury Research Foundation, to research older drivers' attitudes towards "limited, self-driving, semi-automated vehicles (LSDVs)". Although TIRF's final report never defines an LSDV, my reading of the report suggests that the survey is about SAE Level 3 automation. That means that they conducted a survey about a whole category of vehicle automation that most experts now feel should not be put on the market.

The problem with this kind of partial automation is, as the SAE notes in its own definition of Level 3 Automation, that "The driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times with notice". As recent examples including high profile Tesla 'Autopilot' and Uber fatalities show, one thing human drivers are terrible at is that "take control" assignment. We're OK at maintaining control, but we suck at fiddling with the temperature control, checking our Facebook status, putting on lipstick and then, suddenly, grabbing the wheel when our 'autopilot' suddenly can't handle some urgent traffic situation.

And, let's be honest, that's not the kind of thing older drivers can possibly be expected to do any better than young ones.

Don't get me wrong: I'm a big proponent of automated vehicles. I'm quite sure that lower levels of automation will be especially appreciated by, and useful for, older drivers. When fully autonomous vehicles are available, senior mobility and quality of life will be measurably improved.

This survey, which was pretty extensively picked up and reported upon, however, adds no meaningful insight. In addition to asking questions on the wrong topic, by focusing on a degree of partial automation that few experts now feel should even be attempted, it asks the wrong questions anyway. Seniors have, it turns out, pretty much the very same concerns younger drivers have. But like most such surveys this one pretends that drivers will step out of their current cars and into vehicles with far higher levels of automation, with no acclimation process at all.

That's not how life works. Later adopters will see self-driving cars on TV, get rides in self-driving cars, know people with self-driving cars, and have many opportunities to form opinions about such vehicles before they consider buying one, or riding in one on their own.