Study: Women Are Better at Controlling Driverless Cars Than Men

The research found some demographics have slower reaction times and need to be warned of specific hazards sooner

Graham Hope

August 3, 2022

3 Min Read
Image shows a woman sitting in a self-driving car.
Getty Images

A new study has revealed that driverless cars would benefit from gender-specific settings – because women are better at using them than men.

A team from England’s Newcastle University carried out the research, first published in Scientific Reports, on the control of vehicles with Level 3 autonomy, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers – which means they can operate themselves in specific conditions, but human drivers must be prepared to intervene as and when required.

And the research found that some demographics have slower reaction times, which means they need to be warned of specific hazards sooner.

The study saw 33 female and 43 male drivers drive a simulator that recreates the controls of a Level 3 driverless vehicle in a laboratory at Newcastle University. The age range of the participants was 20 to 81.

The participants were asked to read aloud from an iPad mounted to the left of the steering wheel while in the driver’s seat of the simulator. After a minute, audible and visual alerts were issued about a car blocking the way ahead, and it was requested they take over the driving while maintaining the current speed.

From that point, the participants had 20 seconds to spot the hazard, change lanes and avoid a crash.

The test was run at two speeds – 30 mph and 60 mph – and in clear, rainy, snowy and foggy conditions, with respective visibilities of 3,280 feet, 1,312 feet, 656 feet and 328 feet.

And the results provided some fascinating insight, with the study claiming they showed “marked gender differences in terms of the performance of taking over control in L3 AVs.”

Compared to the male participants, “a smaller percentage of hasty takeovers were recorded among female participants.”

These were when the driver took control of the vehicle before they had their hands on the steering wheel, feet on the pedals and eyes on the road. Female drivers performed 17 “hasty takeovers” and the males 23, although this was said to be “not statistically significant.”

More pertinently, the study concluded that “female drivers exhibited significantly faster reactions to the takeover request … and significantly more stable operation of the steering wheel during the process of taking over control compared to male participants.” Female drivers had a mean reaction time of 2.45 seconds, while for males the figure was 2.63.

The result of this, according to the study’s authors, is that a degree of customization should be built into the automated functionality of Level 3 cars to take the different performance capabilities of individual users into account.

These could be as specific as settings on a smartphone, for example, where older users who might have more difficulty reading have the option of increasing the font size on the screen.

The publishing of the research is certainly well timed – Level 3 tech is already available to order in production Mercedes in Germany, with the company hoping to get regulatory approval to allow it to be offered in selected U.S. states later this year.

About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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