Like it or not, autonomous vehicles are on the way, and much is being done to study their integration into the world's transportation networks. As part of its own development of driver assistance systems, General Motors has begun to look driver behavior behind the wheels of self-driving vehicles; innovations like Cadillac semi-autonomous Super Cruise are designed to "ease the driver's workload" on the highway, but it will be good to know what drivers plan on doing to occupy their time.

The main finding so far is that "Staying aware [is] considered key to autonomous vehicle operation," which would seem to make the most basic kind of sense, but the additional assessment is that "driver attentiveness can be improved through advanced driver assistance and safety features." Basically, the more your car does for you, the more it will need to be able to do in order to ensure everyone's safety.

The driver aids that will be available on the 2013 Cadillac ATS this year and the 2014 XTS next year continue the march toward self-driving cars, which some predict might come as soon as this decade. Scroll down to watch a video and see a press release on GM's studies on human behavior behind those I, Robot wheels.

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GM Studying Operator Behavior in Self-Driving Vehicles
Staying aware considered key to autonomous vehicle operation

DETROIT (2012-06-20) – How would driver behavior change in the self-driving vehicles that could be available by mid-decade?

General Motors and its research partners recently tried to find out by studying how non-driving activities influence driver behavior in self-steering, semi-autonomous vehicles. One key finding is that driver attentiveness can be improved through advanced driver assistance and safety features.

"Drivers are already engaging in risky behavior, and are likely to continue doing so given the prevalence of smartphones and other portable electronics, so why not make it safer for them and the people around them," said Dr. Eddy Llaneras, principal investigator at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute on the study. "Offering some form of vehicle automation with the proper safeguards might be better than what is happening on our roads today."

More than one in three drivers surveyed in the AAA Foundation's 2011 Traffic Safety Culture Index, admitted to texting or emailing while driving, despite the vast majority of those surveyed agreeing such behind-the-wheel activities are unacceptable.

The GM study examined the demands on the driver's visual attention in hands-on steering and automated steering, both with full-speed range adaptive cruise control engaged. The studies took place in a driving simulator at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis and with VTTI on a GM test track in Michigan.

When engaging in non-driving activities, drivers tend to split their visual attention between the roadway and secondary tasks by making relatively frequent, but brief off-road glances. The study showed that advanced driver monitoring and assistance features, such as Forward Collision Alert, increases drivers' focus on the road ahead by 126 percent when automated steering is in operation, which increases detection and response to roadway events.

"People have dreamed of having self-driving cars for decades, but having that capability will be a major adjustment for people when it is first introduced," said John Capp, GM director of Global Active Safety Electronics and Innovation. "This study is helping GM and its research partners determine the best methods for keeping drivers engaged."

The foundation for these future systems is the Driver Assist Package that will be available in November on the all-new 2013 Cadillac XTS and ATS sedans. The package includes features such as full-speed range adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking, which are designed to help prevent collisions caused by human error. The human factors research underway is helping GM and its suppliers identify what new technologies will be needed to ensure safe operation of future autonomous systems.

When asked, some study participants expressed strong interest in having a vehicle that could drive itself, particularly for long trips when lane centering and full-speed range adaptive cruise control could help lighten the driver's workload.

The Federal Highway Administration helped pay for the study but does not necessarily endorse all its findings.

GM, its partners and others are continuing to study the effectiveness of the driver monitoring systems, new ways drivers interact with their vehicles, and other active safety technologies that are key enablers for autonomous vehicles. These technologies are expected to ease drivers' workload when traffic and road conditions allow, but they are not intended for drivers to completely "tune out."

"At GM, we recognize that autonomous vehicles will require robust safeguards," Capp said. "By studying driver behavior in automated driving scenarios we are better able to identify the types of driver assistance and safety features that automated cars will need."

General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and its partners produce vehicles in 30 countries, and the company has leadership positions in the world's largest and fastest-growing automotive markets. GM's brands include Chevrolet and Cadillac, as well as Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Isuzu, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at

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