Autopilot car could be 'fatal' to cyclists, study's researcher concludes

The researcher claimed that the model she tested showed "frightening" behaviour around cyclists and that it only detected one percent of cyclists

Cyclists will ride away from parked cars in case someone opens a door (Toronto Star via Getty Images)

(Image credit: Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Research by a leading American university has found that a model of car that uses autopilot mode puts the lives of cyclists in danger.

A team of researchers at Stanford University recently tested the 2016 Tesla Model S in California, a car that is not fully self-driving but has the "hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safely level substantially greater than that of a human driver." Users can still drive the car and turn the autopilot off.

Dr Heather Knight, one of the researchers, praised the car's performance in some autopilot modes, but was heavily critical of its behaviour around cyclists.

She found:

  • The car would notice the presence of a cyclist, but failed to positively identify cyclists, estimating that the autopilot "classified 30 percent of other cars and one percent of bicyclists."
  • Described the "autopilot's agnostic behaviour around bicyclists to be frightening"
  • On narrow, twisting country lanes, the car would attempt to go from 30 to 65mph at its maximum acceleration

>>> Driverless cars could change the way you cycle

Dr Knight added that "not being able to classify objects doesn't meant the Tesla dines't see that something is there, but given the lives at stake, we recommend that people never use Tesla autopilot around bicyclists.

"My concern was that treating autopilot as a fully autonomous system might be reckless for a person in a car but fatal to a bicyclist who has a lot less protection."

Self-driving cars have been branded as the vehicle of the future, but many cycling campaigners are concerned about the dangers they pose on cyclists. A trial on Uber self-driving cars in California last year was critical of the car cutting across cycle lanes.

Dr Knight went on: "In conclusion, and despite the marketing, do not treat this system as a prime time autonomous car. If you forget that... bikers will die."

Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1