Child Safety Must Not Be Ignored by AVs

A panel organized by Safe Kids Worldwide has released a report where safety experts are calling upon autonomous vehicle (AV) developers to take action to protect the safety of child passengers.

The report says child passenger safety issues need to be addressed alongside adult passenger safety during the testing and development of self-driving vehicles. The panel also called for transparency from developers regarding how their tests are designed to meet the specific needs of children, so regulations and laws “ensure children will be properly restrained, have the highest level of protection in a crash, and can be appropriately supervised during a trip”.

The report argues there is a need to develop best practices around the appropriate age at which children can ride alone or when there is a lack of supervision. “Having the child safety community at the table during the development and innovation stages rather than after vehicles and features are in production will decrease risks and enhance child safety,” the report stated.

The 17-member panel panel is composed of safety and transportation experts, including doctors, lawyers, and academics. Representatives from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Governors Highway Safety Association and American Academy of Pediatrics are among the members.

“There is tremendous safety and mobility potential for self-driving vehicles,” Safe Kids Worldwide president and panel chair Torine Creppy said in a statement. “As auto and equipment manufacturers develop and test self-driving vehicles, they all should take steps now to protect child passengers in order to mitigate or eliminate future risks. If we don’t think through the implications for child passenger safety together now, children will be at serious risk for years to come.”

This report also highlights specific recommendations the traffic safety community can begin addressing immediately, including the development of model legislation for states that maintains protection for children of all ages as well as a universal definition of “driver” or “guardian” for autonomous vehicles transporting children through age 12.

Education of first responders and law enforcement officers on autonomous vehicles is also necessary according to the panel, especially in cities and states where these vehicles are being tested and the development and use of consistent language and messaging with the public.

As the report points out, the public is increasingly confused and often misled as to the capabilities of advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) features like assisted lane change, active cruise control (ACC) and other semi-autonomous technologies. A September AAA report found drivers rely too heavily on these features and are poorly informed about them – the vast majority of consumers surveyed did not understand the limitations of blind spot warnings, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning and lane keeping assist. For example, 80% of drivers did not know the technology’s limitations or incorrectly believed that the systems could monitor the roadway behind the vehicle or reliably detect bicycles, pedestrians and vehicles passing at high speeds.

Among the other recommendations of the panel: convene a multi-year consortium of child safety advocates, transportation experts and industry partners to monitor research and progress in child safety in AVs, and the development and implementation of education for certified child passenger safety technicians on the features and safety issues pertaining to self-driving vehicles.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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