Articles, Level 5 Autonomous Driving, Smart Mobility

Dangers of the "Chicken Game"

Many experts believe that autonomous driving will be established until the year 2030. Still, it is technically not quite mature, but technology is getting a little closer each year. However, a certain proportion of manually controlled vehicles will also be present on the streets. How will driverless vehicles affect society and what does their establishment mean for pedestrians?
Researcher Adam Millard-Ball has recently published a study based on the “Game Theory”. The study “Pedestrians, Autonomous Vehicles, and Cities” focuses on intersections and analyzed the interaction between pedestrians and autonomous vehicles. The key questions were: How do pedestrians act knowing that autonomous cars will brake for them? Will their influence slow down traffic? Since the cars always pay attention to the rules and always slow down before pedestrians, some people might take advantage of this.

The first to swerve loses

Based on the Game Theory Millard-Ball developed a model for the mentioned situations. The “Chicken Game” is simple. Two objects or individuals move toward each other, whoever evades first, loses. So what happens if somebody wants to cross the road even though a car is approaching?
Self-driving cars, with reference to Google, would slow down in the detection of the danger. Even with crosswalks, some models reduce their speed. As a consequence, people could deliberately enter the roadway, knowing that the car will brake anyway. Volvo is considering to camouflage its vehicles as ordinary cars to prevent those unwanted tests. The people, Millard-Ball said, would see this as a quasi-legitimacy, to recklessly enter the street. Therefore, he presents some model solutions.

Scenarios for mediation between autonomous cars and pedestrians

The first scenario for the city provides the prevalence of weak road users like cyclists and pedestrians. Latter would take their space knowing that autonomous vehicles would put back in a situation of doubt. Those “encounters” would reduce the flow of traffic forcing vehicles to move at low speed. By and by the drivers would park their vehicles on the outskirts of the city.
The second scenario implies a regulatory intervention by means of structural changes in order to separate the traffic participants from each other. Pedestrians, who violate the rules, would have to face harsh penalties, while the manufacturers cannot be held liable for accidents on the routes. While the driverless vehicles adhere to the traffic regulations, humans could however disregard them in case of time constraints. If people drive faster for reasons of time, dangerous situations could occur, because the pedestrians do not know whether the car is an autonomous car or not.
But these are only model projections that depend on the development, not only on the technical side, but also on the development of judiciary, town planning and politics. The many advantages of autonomous driving, such as security and more space in the cities, will impact the social framework. The behavior of human drivers towards autonomous vehicles will be another vital aspect. Like pedestrians they could slow down such vehicles and cause traffic congestions. Just think of the congestion that arises when all of them visit a large sporting event at the same time. In that case Millard-Ball proposes structural measures, like autonomous cars picking up people and taking them to the events like with public transportation.
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About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: