Dr Paul Jackson, Head of Impairment Research & Dr Neale Kinnear, Head of Behavioural Science at TRL

Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs) present the unique opportunity to improve safety and efficiency by removing the so-called ‘weak link’, the driver. However, it will be some time until no human involvement is required, or desirable, particularly in professional service industries. The role of the professional driver will change, but if maximum safety benefits are to be realised, the skills required need to be valued and reflected in driver training and licensing.

Advanced driver assistance systems, such as adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and collision avoidance are available on current production vehicles. Advanced versions of these systems (e.g. Tesla’s Autopilot) allow the driver to physically disengage with vehicle controls, although continuous monitoring is required. While there may be a desire and utopian vision to completely remove the driver, there are safety and service industry reasons for a human operator to be present for some time.

As automation advances, the platooning of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and mobility as a service (MAAS) is expected to expand to meet consumer demand, highlighting the importance for the role of professional automated vehicle operators to be developed from that of current professional drivers.

As automated technology develops and integrates with the current vehicle pool, creating a mixed fleet of driverless and legacy vehicles, it is likely that drivers will take on more of a monitoring role. This can already be seen in on-road tests of automated vehicles such as the UK HGV Advanced Platooning trials led by TRL.

Psychological studies tell us that humans are poor at maintaining vigilance for prolonged time periods. This is a demanding task that is highly susceptible to fatigue. In industries where safety is critical, for example air traffic control, controllers are extensively trained, highly skilled and take frequent breaks. In contrast with the high value placed on training for these operators, it could be argued that the role of the future vehicle operator has been seen as requiring little additional or specialist training. And yet, if connected and automated vehicles are to gain widespread public acceptance, would it not be desirable for the operators of these vehicles to have received specialist training and to have demonstrated a higher level of capability?  

Safety professionals in the aviation industry have long wrestled with the issue of how to maintain pilot situational awareness in an increasingly automated flight deck environment. As far back as the Second World War, human factors experts were concerned about pilot underload. For the modern pilot, the level of training they have received (and continue to receive through recurrent training) is designed to enable them to manage any situation that they could potentially experience.

Simulator training enables pilots to practice a wide ranging combination of low-likelihood, but potentially catastrophic events. This high level of training means that the margin of safety between pilot capabilities and the demands of the flying task is – most of the time – very broad. As a consequence, airline pilots are rightly recognised for their skills, professionalism and calmness under pressure, reassuring the public that they are safe in their hands.

The role of a pilot for much of the time in-flight is to monitor and make sense of the data provided by the various flight systems, while also maintaining situational awareness: an understanding of the aircraft’s position in time and space, in relation to terrain and other aircraft.

The environments that drivers are operating may be very different in comparison to pilots. However, it is reasonable to assume the professional driver of the near future will have much in common with the modern airline pilot, considering their role could involve monitoring data from multiple in-vehicle systems (and in the case of a platoon of HGVs – data from a number of vehicles).

Will specialist training be required to enable drivers to interpret incoming data and have the necessary capability and alertness to respond appropriately if necessary? What about the information provided to operators: given the need for them to maintain a state of readiness, such that they could take back control if required, should the system provide continuous feedback to the vehicle operator regarding the current system state, including environmental information and details of situational hazards?

There is a school of thought that proposes the professional driver of the future should be little more than a safety net, requiring little training. On the contrary, we would argue that, to ensure public trust and confidence in the safety of AVs, the operators of these vehicles will undoubtedly require specialist training, but should perhaps be trained to a higher level than current drivers. For example, the supervisor operating the lead vehicle in a platoon of trucks should be given this level of responsibility only once they have demonstrated their ability to successfully cope with unforeseen safety events under pressure, for example in vehicle simulator training.

Trials of connected and automated HGVs are currently being planned to take place on public highways. Whilst the technology is here, the time is also here to consider advanced driver training and licensing for these new technologies, tailored to the AV pilot’s role, as well as standard operating procedures that ensure the safety of the operator and other road users. This might include monitoring in-vehicle systems, interpreting the data from these systems, procedures for communicating with co-pilots in other AVs, how to maintain situational awareness and sufficient levels of alertness to enable safe transfer of control, and threat and error management.  

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