An interesting development in the ongoing saga of self-driving, or fully autonomous cars, is the idea that they be unmarked to prevent bullying and aggressive behavior by other drivers. Is this outlandish or should self-driving cars be unmarked?

A recent story in The Guardian details how Volvo’s first fleet of self-driving 4×4 vehicles that ordinary British citizens will operate beginning in 2018 will be exactly that: unmarked.

At least, the first 100 cars in the Volvo pilot test will bear no identifying markings that they’re self-driving.

Erich Coelingh, Senior Technical Leader at Volvo Cars with 1st autonomous XC90 in Drive Me pilot in Gothenberg, Sweden

Erich Coelingh, Senior Technical Leader at Volvo Cars with 1st autonomous XC90 in Drive Me pilot in Gothenberg, Sweden

“From the outside, you won’t see that it’s a self-driving car,” Erik Coelingh, Volvo Cars senior technical leader, told the publication. “From a purely scientific perspective it would be interesting to have some cars that are marked as self-driving cars and some that are not and see whether other road users react in a different way.”

Coelingh added that he expected they will and just to be on the safe side, the pilot test of Volvo self-driving cars will not bear markings identifying them as such. “I’m pretty sure that people will challenge them if they’re marked,” doing such things as “really harsh braking in front of a self-driving car or putting themselves in the way.”

Survey Finds Aggressive Drivers Likely to Bully Occupants of Self-Driving Cars

In a survey published in mid-October by the London School of Economics, “Autonomous Vehicles – Negotiating a Place on the Open Road: A study on how drivers feel about interacting with Autonomous Vehicles on the road,” researchers found that aggressive drivers see the occupants of self-driving vehicles as easy prey on the roads because they follow the rules. Thus, aggressive drivers will tend to “bully” operators of self-driving cars.

The study, carried out in 11 countries with 12,000 drivers, found that more “combative” drivers regard self-driving cars as “easier agents to deal with on the road” than cars with drivers behind the wheel.

The findings appear to echo the concerns Coelingh mentioned relative to the planned London self-driving pilot testing with selected British citizens.

In our view, it will be interesting to see how the Volvo pilot in London in 2018 plays out. There is no doubt that there’s a lot still to learn about the development and deployment of fully autonomous vehicles. As Coelingh said, “It’s easy to make a car drive itself but it’s really difficult to make it safe. The real challenge is to make sure the car can deal with all the things that can happen on the road – and that includes human behavior.”

What do you think? Should self-driving cars be unmarked, at least during the testing on public roads? Would this be different in the United States compared to London? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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