We are more likely to blame a vehicle’s autonomous system than its human driver in an accident.

We are more likely to blame a vehicle's autonomous system than its human driver in an accident.

Most accidents are caused by human error, simply because our brain cannot process as many inputs and cannot hold attention for so long. As a result, autonomous vehicles will eventually make our roads safer .

However, people trust human drivers more than autonomous vehicles, according to a new study published in the journal Risk Analysis . This bias is called blame asymmetry .

Risk analysis

Semi-autonomous (semi-AV) vehicles, which allow humans to monitor driving and take control of the vehicle, are already on the road. However, when there is an accident, we are inclined to think that the fault was the machine or the vehicle manufacturer rather than the human driver .

Researchers led by Peng Liu , an associate professor at Tianjin University College of Management and Economics, conducted experiments to measure participants’ responses to hypothetical semi-AV shocks. When an accident was caused by a vehicle’s automated system, participants assigned more blame and responsibility to the automation and its manufacturer and indicated that the victim should be more compensated, compared to a crash caused by a human driver.

They also judged the shock caused by automation to be more severe and less acceptable than one caused by a human, regardless of the severity of the shock .

Liu and his colleagues call this bias against automated blame-attribution asymmetry . It indicates the tendency of people to overreact to shocks caused by automation, possibly due to higher negative affect, or the feelings and emotions, evoked by these shocks. Negative emotions such as anger can amplify attributions of legal responsibility and guilt.

To change people’s negative attitudes about semi-AVs, Liu argues that "public communication campaigns are much needed to transparently communicate accurate information, dispel public misconceptions, and provide opportunities to experience semi-AVs." .