Self-driving cars are in the news practically every day at the moment, therefore the question is a pertinent one. Are children's specific safety needs when traveling in driverless cars being considered?
The answer could not be more disheartening, given that there is no evidence whatsoever that there are any tests being carried out in this field. However, there are some very interesting aspects to bear in mind in this regard. The first of which would be, what do we understand by the term self-driving car?
There are currently a number of different levels of automation in cars, from level zero—that is to say, involving no automation at all— to level 5 —full automation, which are cars that can deal with all driving tasks without human intervention. There is currently no commercial or viable model on the market from level 5. All “autonomous cars” in circulation are not currently higher than level 3 (this video explains the different levels). Level 3 vehicles can drive themselves in certain controlled environments such as highways and freeways.
However, in the near future autonomous cars will start to be marketed, namely those from level 5, and they will have to have passed all the safety tests for the age ranges of the passengers traveling in them. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, children's safety in driverless cars is not being worked on.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is the standards organization for automobiles which has divided the self-driving ability of vehicles into different levels. This infographic explains what these different levels are in detail.
What needs to be done to guarantee the safety of children in self-driving cars?
In terms of special types of child car seats there is no clear solution for the moment. Child car seats for driverless cars should not be drastically different to car seats for traditional cars. However, certain adaptations will have to be made to them. These changes can only come about once we have submitted autonomous vehicles to a battery of safety tests. Obviously these tests can not be carried out until fully functioning autonomous vehicles become available to us.
Nevertheless, it is never too soon to deal with other areas related to children's safety in self-driving cars. As stated in the Safe kids study, “making sure that children's safety experts are involved at all stages of development and innovation, and not merely once the vehicles and their features are already on the production line, will reduce the risks and increase children's safety”.
Among the many aspects to take into account, manufacturers need to be open and transparent when designing tests to ensure child safety. They need to make sure that the child is well-secured, that they have the highest protection possible in the event of a crash and that they can be properly supervised during the journey. This last point is not a particularly controversial one as it would not be feasible for children to be traveling without adult supervision in a driverless car.
The passenger compartment for fully autonomous cars may be different to that of traditional cars. With this level of maximum autonomy, the car does not need a human driver, which means that the direction of the seats or where they are placed could change. The interior could even be dynamic and adaptable to the types of passengers using the vehicle.
Child car seats for driverless cars should pay attention to these new contexts, which could have children unbuckling themseves or other children, or bored children playing with seat belts instead of fastening them. These types of vehicles may not be designed to have either forward-facing or rear-facing child seats and therefore it is crucial that we come up with new safety tests for children.