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Self-Driving Cars

Tend to Get Carsick? Steer Clear of Self-Driving Cars.

Tend to Get Carsick? Steer Clear of Self-Driving Cars.
Image credit: Mercedes-Benz
Former West Coast Editor
3 min read

Buckle up and keep a barf bag handy. It’s gonna be queasy ride.

If you get dizzy or nauseous when you’re in the passenger seat, rolling down the road in a car at the mercy of the person behind the wheel, the results of a new study suggest you probably won’t turn any less green when you’re strapped into a self-driving car.

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute surveyed 3,200 adults across the world to find out what types of activities they would engage in while riding in a driverless vehicle. More than a third of the American participants polled reported that they would do things “that increase the likelihood and severity of motion sickness,” like texting (of course), reading (what’s that?), playing mobile games (totally) or working (bummer). You know, basically mostly all of the same things we already do when we ride shotgun.  

Related: Driverless Cars Won't Make Roadways Perfectly Safe

All told, the researchers concluded that approximately 6 to 12 percent of U.S. adults rolling in fully self-driving automobiles would be “expected to experience moderate or severe motion sickness at some time.” Similar percentages were projected for residents in the other countries sampled in the study.  

Bottom line: "Motion sickness is expected to be more of an issue in self-driving vehicles than in conventional vehicles," researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle wrote in their findings.

Related: Apple Studies Self-Driving Car, Auto Industry Source Says

Ok, but how is passenger motion sickness in a driverless car any worse than the kind people experience in a manned vehicle, we wonder? The researchers posit that carsickness is more of an problem in driverless cars because they exacerbate three main contributing factors to the ailment -- “conflict between vestibular (balance) and visual inputs, inability to anticipate the direction of motion and lack of control over the direction of motion.”

To combat the problem, the researchers suggest autonomous vehicle manufacturers make a few design tweaks to reduce the likelihood of riders, uh, well, feeling like they’re gonna hurl. They can boost passengers’ field of vision by incorporating large, transparent windows, position see-through video and work displays in ways that require people to face forward, install fully reclining seats, do away with swivel seats and, this part sounds a bit scary, “restrict head motion.” As if it’s not freaky enough to be motoring down the street in a robot on wheels.

Related: Mercedes' Self-Driving Car Says Hello to San Francisco

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