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Seat Belts and Safety Restraints for AI Autonomous Cars


Seat Belts and Safety Restraints for AI Autonomous Cars 1
Seat belts should still be required for drivers and passengers in AI self-driving cars, for the safety of all concerned. (GETTY IMAGES)

By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

Seat belts.

Some people love them and feel reassured to be wearing one while inside a moving car.

Others hate them and feel trapped, at times even trying to find clever ways to avoid wearing them.

Most of us now know that as a driver, you ought to be wearing your seatbelt, and for which modern day cars will usually put up quite a holler if you aren’t wearing one.

Grandparents Opinions About Seat Belts

I remember my grandparents telling me when I was young that they normally did not wear a seat belt. They indicated that when Congress passed the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety law in the mid-1960’s making seat belts mandatory in cars, they nearly went to Washington DC to protest. Indeed, they defiantly refused to wear seat belts at all, and made a proud show of disdain for seat belts every time they got into a car.

They had experienced primarily lap belts for most of their driving life.

I vividly recall them buckling all of the lap belts that were in the car and telling any passengers to sit atop the buckled seat belt. Buckling the seat belts was partially to satisfy the system that later on was able to detect whether a seat belt was fastened or not, and they also did it to overtly carry out their protest. If the seat belts were unbuckled, it could be that you didn’t even realize they were there. For them, by buckling the seat belts, and purposely sitting on top of them, it was an indicator that you knew what you are doing and did so for a reason.

The 3-point belt standard got them further riled up.

The early versions were someone confusing to use and this added more fuel to the fire as to why they were necessary and seemed primarily to be there as an annoyance. How do these darned things work, they would exclaim? Stupidly designed, not needed, abhorrent, they would say.

It really galled them when seat belts were added to the backseat of cars.

They somewhat begrudgingly could understand the basis for putting seat belts in the front seats of a car, particularly for the driver, but it was unfathomable to put them into the backseat. Who in the world would want or need to wear seat belts while in the backseat? It became an open secret that they were convinced that the seat belt manufacturers had a monopoly going on and had in a conspiratorial manner kowtowed the government into keeping them in business by insisting on seat belts throughout a car.

At times, my beloved grandparents would sit in the back seat of my car, once I was older and able to drive, and would explain to me that the reason they did not need to wear a seat belt in the backseat was that they were strong enough to hang-on if anything happened while the car was in motion. This became a test of their personal strength as elders, suggesting that if they were too weak to hang onto an armrest or steady themselves if the car swerved, it somehow implied they were weak of mind, body, and spirit.

In their later years, air bags were just coming to fruition, which was mainly during the 1970’s and the 1980’s.

I almost shouldn’t tell you what they thought of air bags. The good news is that at first they thought airbags were the best thing since sliced bread. In their minds, having air bags meant you for sure did not need to wear your seat belt. This was of course in contrast to the clearly indicated aspect that you were supposed to wear your seat belt and that the airbag was merely a supplemental form of safety restraint.

Nope, for them, the airbag was the kiss-of-death to the need for seat belts. They assumed that the air bag would save them in any kind of incident. They weren’t sure how the contraptions worked and figured it was a compressed down-filled pillow that somehow expanded and gave your head and body a soft place to land. I suppose you could somewhat excuse them on this misunderstanding, given that the auto makers initially referred to the airbag as an Air Cushion Restraint System (ACRS), which sounds kind of like a pillow, I suppose.

My grandparents weren’t around when air bags began to become not only standard but also you’d have several of them, perhaps six or more, outfitted into a conventional car. I’d dare say that they’d be once again threatening to protest in Washington DC about this proliferation of air bags.

Why, you might ask, since they had initially hailed the invention of airbags?

Airbags First Deployed

You might not know that when airbags were first being deployed, even some of the major automakers opposed them, including Ford and GM, doing so under the claim that airbags were inappropriate and lacked consumer demand.

There were also rumors of air bags that suddenly deployed on their own and either scared the dickens out of the driver or caused the driver to lose control of the car. There were rumors that the air bags would injure you upon deployment and you were at as much risk in not more so of death from the airbag as you would be from the car getting into a collision.

Though some of those rumors were baseless, there is still to this day controversy associated with air bags.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) did a study in the early 2000’s and found that over a twelve-year period there were over 200 deaths due to airbags. The deaths occurred at low speeds and the NHTSA said that the airbag was the more likely culprit of the death due to the underlying incident that led to the deployment of the air bag.

For higher speeds, they could not readily differentiate what led to a death and so tended to not attribute deaths to the air bags when the incident involved high speeds.

Getting back to the topic of seat belts, I’m happy to say that my children are quite inured to the use of seat belts.

They would not even consider driving a car without wearing seat belts and will nearly always urge others in their cars to be wearing their seat belts. Of course, you could say that they’ve grown-up with seat belts and it was the constant drumbeat during their generation that aided them in becoming seat belt advocates. My grandparents had obviously grown-up in a different era and perceived seat belts in a radically different way.

Seat Belts Aspects

One aspect that I never could fully grasp about my grandparents’ concerns was that they insisted the seat belt would hamper the driving of a car.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a situation that I thought my seat belt got in the way of my driving the car. Certainly, I’ve had a number of moments when the belt tension mounted and became uncomfortable taut due to a rapid maneuver. I didn’t find myself though unable to maintain control of the driving task. You might suggest it helped me maintain control since I would have otherwise likely had my body and limbs flail around.

Another qualm they had was that the seat belt could end-up killing you.

Have you heard that one before?

You might be puzzled about killer seat belts.

Let me enlighten you.

My grandparents asserted that you might get into a car accident and not be able to escape from the car. The seat belt would keep you pinned into the wrecked car. They were convinced that the chances of you getting stuck inside a burning car was far more likely than whatever other protection or safety that the seat belt offered. In a risk-reward equation, they argued that putting on a seat belt was like a death sentence, meaning that if the car got into an accident you would be a dead person. They, meanwhile, free of the seat belt as a restraint, would walk or crawl out of the burning car and survive.

What amplified their claim were movies and TV shows that would vividly depict a car plunging dramatically into a body of water such as an ocean or a lake, and the person inside the car would be trapped by their seat belt and drown (a surprisingly frequent plot device in murder mysteries and James Bond spy stories).

Living near an ocean here in California seemingly put me at heightened risk, and when they realized that we also have parks with small lakes, well, this was enough to get them to plead with me to not wear my seat belt. I bought one of those seat belts cutting tools, which also doubled as a tool to break the glass of the windshield, hoping this would ease their concerns. It did not.

By the way, I’ve never managed to drive my car into the ocean or into a lake, and nor even into a swimming pool. I might be living on borrowed time. Yes, I still keep the handy escape tool in my car, as per the lessons of life handed down to me by my grandparents.

I trust that you know that the odds of seat belts “killing” you are exceedingly remote. I won’t say it is zero odds, which maybe you might assume, at the same time I think using whatever the tiny rate might be as a basis for overlooking the safety of wearing the seat belt, well, it’s an easy calculation. Wear your seat belt.

Seat Belts And The Law

In California, it is the law that you must wear your seat belt.

And it is not just the driver that must wear a seat belt.

The law here is that the driver and all passengers in a car that are over the age of 8 or are children sized 4 feet 9 inches tall or taller must all be wearing seat belts. This encompasses whenever you are driving on public roads. It also applies to private property, including parking lots and in other circumstances. Children that are younger than the stated threshold or smaller than the stated threshold must be in federally-approved child car seat restraints.

In some states, the police can stop you if you are not wearing a seatbelt, allowing them to share with you the importance of wearing a seatbelt and you can get a ticket for not having worn it. Other states don’t permit the police to stop you for not wearing seat belts, considering it not serious enough to warrant a police stop, though if you are stopped for some other valid reason, the police can then cite you for the lack of wearing seat belts.

I know one couple that was visiting here in California and got a bit upset when they had gently rolled through a stop sign and the police stopped them (they acknowledged this was wrong to do), and subsequently the police noticed that their teenage children in the back seat were not wearing seat belts and cited the driver for each of those offenses.

The driver was a bit steamed and argued that they should not be held responsible for what the teenagers in the backseat were doing.

What was he supposed to have done?

Well, here in California, any passenger under the age of 16 that is not wearing a seat belt will mean that the driver gets the blame (or, more properly stated, has the responsibility, which the driver should have duly exercised and made sure the teens were wearing seat belts, akin to being the captain of a ship).

When I was in college, I had a friend that drove a beat-up old jalopy of a car.

It was in pretty bad shape.

He had seat belts in the car.

These were the most dilapidated seat belts I had ever seen. He said he couldn’t afford to replace them.

As frayed as these seat belts were, I was sure that in an accident they would immediately be torn apart at their loose ends and the belts would not hold in anyone or anything of any substantive weight or size. He was lucky that he never got stopped by the police. If a police officer had seen those seat belts, it would have been tickets galore, since it’s another law here that your seat belts must be in proper working order. He was doubly lucky that he never got into an actual incident severe enough to require the seat belts to work as expected.

In case this discussion about seat belts has not been clear cut, let me point out that seat belts will generally increase your chances of surviving car crashes or other such incidents, at least more so than if you aren’t wearing the seat belts. Of course, the seat belts need to be in proper shape. You also need to wear them the right way. If you goof around and aren’t wearing the seat belts as intended, you are defeating their purpose, plus it can cause you added injury during an incident, such as to your spine or torso.

For the driver of a car, the seat belt can aid them in being able to retain control of the driving task.

Whereas they might be tossed around wildly without seat belts, the intent is that you’ll stay pretty much in place and be able to therefore continue to access the steering wheel and the pedals. This staying in place might allow you to drive your way out of whatever predicament is taking place or at least perhaps be able to more safely consider other drivable options. It can also aid in reducing the severity of the whipping motions and might prevent your body from otherwise damage that it could sustain due to the incident by not wearing seat belts.

Front seat passengers can also gain advantages by wearing their seat belts.

A front seat passenger that is not wearing a seat belt can inadvertently get tossed into the driver of the car, causing the driver to lose control of the car or perhaps leading to the driver hitting the gas or steering radically when they didn’t intend to do so. The front seat passenger could get launched through the front windshield in a severe impact of the car hitting another car or ramming into something, which would likely not occur if the person was wearing a seat belt.

The backseat seat belts are for many people less essential, since they assume that anyone in the backseat will somehow be magically okay in a car incident. Those people falsely think that whatever happens in the backseat won’t affect the front seat and the driving. Little do they seem to know that a person flying around in a backseat can readily push into the back of a front seat, causing havoc to the driver sitting in the front seat. It is even possible for the person in the backseat to go flying up into the front seat of the car, or possibly get launched through the front windshield.

There is also the aspect that while in the backseat, you likely don’t want to be flailing around loosely, even if you don’t happen to knock into the front seat of the car. Imagine if say two people are sitting in the backseat. There’s a rapid car movement which is going to cause a hard braking or swerving of the car. These two people can be tossed around like rag dolls and hit each other, including causing broken bones or worse. If they had been wearing their seat belts, they might have still bumped somewhat into each other, but the likely injuries are going to be less severe.

Ridesharing Cars And Seat Belts

Some recent studies about the wearing of seat belts has indicated that people often do not wear the backseat seat belts when they get into a ridesharing car. These are people that would normally wear their seat belts in the backseat of a car of someone that they knew. But, when they get into a ridesharing car, they often do not put on the backseat seat belts.

The news media seemed puzzled by this matter.

I think it seems quite obvious. When you get into a ridesharing car, you are likely going to take a very short trip, and you are assuming that the chances of a car incident occurring are low, due to the short distance and time involved in the travel. You are also likely used to getting into vehicles such as buses that often do not have seat belts.

There is also the matter of figuring out the seat belts in a car that you are not familiar with. This might seem ridiculous since all seat belts are pretty much the same. All I can say is that I’ve seen people struggle mightily with the seat belts while in the backseat of cars. They mentally might be calculating that the amount of time required to figure out the seat belt and put it on exceeds the amount of time they are going to be in the ridesharing car.

Some might also ascribe a level of proficiency to the ridesharing driver. These passengers might believe that the ridesharing driver is a professional driver and so less likely to get involved in an incident, perhaps more so than would someone that they know as a friend or colleague. I’m not going to put too much stock into that part of the theory. There are some that go the opposite direction on this belief in the sense that they assume that since the ridesharing driver is on the road so much of the time, the odds are they are going to ultimately get into incidents that others that don’t spend as much time on the road will not.

In any case, the recent spate of news coverage has brought to the forefront a number of popular YouTube videos that showcase what can happen when you are in a ridesharing car that gets into an incident. If you want to scare yourself into forever putting on your seat belt while a passenger, go ahead and watch one of those videos. Maybe get others that you know to watch the videos too, since it will heighten their understanding of how a human being can become an unguided missile while sitting in the back of a car.

I don’t want to sound like some kind of seat belt crazed advocate.

I am not suggesting that seat belts are a cure all.

They are a reasoned form of safety that has trade-offs.

Yes, bad things can happen while wearing a seatbelt. Likewise, bad things can happen with air bags. For now, these bad things are generally outweighed by the good things that these safety features provide. It is not an absolute. It is the calculation of risk-reward and for which the seat belt is more of a plus than a negative.

In the case of air bags, there’s not much choice per se that you have about those. If your car is equipped with them, they are either going to deploy or not, and either help you or not. Some cars have plenty of them, some cars have very few or none at all (in the USA, cars sold after 1998 became required to be equipped with air bags for the front seats of the car). Some cars also allow you to disable the airbags. Overall, the airbags “choice” for a driver or passenger is not particularly a choice as much as it is a given, while the use of seat belts is more so a type of choice, one might argue.

AI Autonomous Cars And Seat Belts

What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. One aspect to consider is the nature and use of safety restraints such as seat belts and air bags. I often get asked whether or not we’ll still have such constraints in a world of AI self-driving cars.

Allow me to elaborate.

I’d like to first clarify and introduce the notion that there are varying levels of AI self-driving cars.

The topmost level is considered Level 5, and a constrained variant is Level 4.

A true self-driving car is one that is being driven by the AI and there is no human driver involved. For the design of true self-driving cars, the automakers are even removing the gas pedal, the brake pedal, and steering wheel, since those are contraptions used by human drivers. The true self-driving car is not being driven by a human and nor is there an expectation that a human driver will be present in the self-driving car. It’s all on the shoulders of the AI to drive the car.

For semi-autonomous cars, there must be a human driver present in the car. The human driver is currently considered the responsible party for the acts of the car. The AI and the human driver are co-sharing the driving task. In spite of this co-sharing, the human is supposed to remain fully immersed into the driving task and be ready at all times to perform the driving task. I’ve repeatedly warned about the dangers of this co-sharing arrangement and predicted it will produce many untoward results.

For my overall framework about AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For the levels of self-driving cars, see my article:

For why AI Level 5 self-driving cars are like a moonshot, see my article:

For the dangers of co-sharing the driving task, see my article:

Here’s the usual steps involved in the AI driving task:

  • Sensor data collection and interpretation
  • Sensor fusion
  • Virtual world model updating
  • AI action planning
  • Car controls command issuance

Another key aspect of AI self-driving cars is that they will be driving on our roadways in the midst of human driven cars too. There are some pundits of AI self-driving cars that continually refer to a Utopian world in which there are only AI self-driving cars on public roads. Currently there are about 250+ million conventional cars in the United States alone, and those cars are not going to magically disappear or become true Level 5 AI self-driving cars overnight.

Indeed, the use of human driven cars will last for many years, likely many decades, and the advent of AI self-driving cars will occur while there are still human driven cars on the roads. This is a crucial point since this means that the AI of self-driving cars needs to be able to contend with not just other AI self-driving cars, but also contend with human driven cars. It is easy to envision a simplistic and rather unrealistic world in which all AI self-driving cars are politely interacting with each other and being civil about roadway interactions. That’s not what is going to be happening for the foreseeable future. AI self-driving cars and human driven cars will need to be able to cope with each other.

For my article about the grand convergence that has led us to this moment in time, see:

See my article about the ethical dilemmas facing AI self-driving cars:

For potential regulations about AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For my predictions about AI self-driving cars for the 2020s, 2030s, and 2040s, see my article:

Returning to the topic of safety restraints, let’s consider what might happen as a result of the advent of AI self-driving cars.

First, let’s consider cars that are semi-autonomous.

Those semi-autonomous cars will need a human licensed driver at the wheel and the human driver must be ready to take over the driving task when needed. In many respects, this is no different than being in a conventional car in the sense that the human driver should be snugly in their driver’s seat and be kept in place via a seat belt, along with having air bags at the ready.

There is a bit of a twist though.

One issue that I’ve repeatedly brought up about semi-autonomous cars is that the human driver is likely to become disjointed from the driving task.

As the automation gets better and better, there is a tendency for a human driver to become increasingly careless and aloof of the driving effort. This is a highly dangerous circumstance since the odds are that the human driver will be needed immediately if the AI opts to handover the driving to the human driver, and yet the human driver might be mentally adrift of the driving situation.

In addition to being mentally adrift, there is a high chance that the human driver will be physically adrift too.

You’ve perhaps seen videos of human drivers reading a book, texting on their smartphones, and otherwise physically having their limbs away from the controls of the car. These human drivers often will also shift their body and be angled towards the front seat passenger or perhaps be turned slightly backwards to look at the passengers in the backseat.

Whereas in a conventional car the preponderance of drivers tend to realize that they need to keep their body and limbs within close proximity of the driving controls, the temptation of the heightened automation will prompt them to be adrift of the car pedals and steering wheel.

Semi-Autonomous Cars And Seat Belt Use

This raises the question of whether or not we’ll potentially see more human drivers that will seek to avoid their seat belts or misuse the seat belt by not remaining in place.

I would anticipate that we’ll see a lot of human drivers that allow themselves to get into such a predicament.

They might upon initial foray into using a semi-autonomous car be closely attentive to remain well-connected with the driving controls, but over time, inexorably, if nothing adverse seems to occur, they will stretch out their physical boundaries.

For seat belts, it means that the seat belt will not be as protective as normally expected.

Is this due to a design issue of the seat belt or is it due to the “misuse” by the human driver?

You could try to place all the blame and responsibility onto the inattentive human driver.

That’s the easy way out.

I’d like to suggest that we instead consider how to use automation and the AI to help on the matter.

There is already a move afoot to use cameras that are inward facing to watch the human driver and alert them when they are no longer looking ahead at the roadway. These cameras can also scan the position of the eyes of the human driver, thus, their head needs to be straight ahead, and their eyes need to be looking ahead too. There are new devices on steering wheels to detect whether the driver has their hands on the wheel and if they are away from it too long the steering wheel lights up or a sound or some alert warns them about this.

We can use the AI to bring together an array of sensory data about the human driver and use it in a coordinated manner to have the AI discuss with the human driver the need to remain involved in the driving efforts. Rather than merely a series of beeps and lights that go on, it would be handy to leverage the socio-behavioral Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities of the on-board AI system to inspire the human driver and keep them engaged in the driving task.

For socio-behavioral conversation computing, see my article:

For AI NLP and self-driving cars, see my article:

For more about steering wheels, see my article:

For my article about the responsibility aspects, see:

The seat belt and the physical position of the human driver can also be scanned via the inward facing cameras. This would allow the AI to further determine how far away from the driving controls the human driver is becoming, along with whether the human driver is putting themselves into greater danger by not being in the proper placement for the seat belt to work as intended.

As an aside, this same use of the camera data can be helpful in ensuring that the human driver remains well-positioned related to the air bags that are nearby to the driver’s position. Many people seem completely unaware that they can be dangerously harmed if they are too close to an airbag when it deploys. The recommended distance is about 10 inches away from the inflation point, which is usually easily found at the location of the airbag cover. This distance could be monitored by the AI system and the human driver notified when they have become to close (and also warn when they are to distant).

Smart Seat Belts

There are numerous research efforts underway to create the next-generation of seat belts, which some are referring to as Smart Seat Belts (SSB’s).

These advanced versions of seat belts have embedded sensors.

Those sensors would become another form of data collection for the AI system and allow it to ascertain the placement related to the driver. In this manner, not only would there be the visual data from the inward facing camera, but in addition there would be data coming from the seat belt itself.

It is anticipated that the SSB’s would provide a kind of customization for the wearer of the seat belt.

The seat belt would contain elements that could allow it to stretch and extend, or tighten and become more fitting, depending upon the size and weight of the human driver. Hopefully, this would act as another form of encouragement for the human driver to make sure they are wearing their seat belt and doing so in the appropriate manner.

For the dangers of Level 3 and human driver inattentiveness, see my article:

For the bifurcation of autonomy, see my article:

For my article about safety aspects, see:

For the reaction time Human Factors issues, see my article:

For semi-autonomous cars, I’ve emphasized herein that the human driver must remain involved and aware of the driving task, and that the use of the seat belt is crucial in that effort.

The AI can help to keep track of the position of the human driver and perhaps by using NLP talk the human driver into being more compliant. I say this because I’d bet that beeps and lights would not be quite as effective as a disembodied AI savvy voice that politely and yet sternly acts as a reminder of the right thing to be doing.

What about the passengers in semi-autonomous cars?

I’ll extend my remarks about the driver to suggest that we can have the AI be detecting the positions of the passengers too, and once again trying to inspire them to also properly wear their seat belts. The inward facing camera will readily be able to see the front seat passengers, and it is likely that the camera would also be able to see the backseat passengers, or there might be additional cameras throughout the interior to make sure that the backseat passengers can also be seen.

Perhaps the parent in the driver’s seat will no longer need to be “the tough parent” and have to ask or insist that those teens in the backseat put on their seat belts.

The AI can take on that role.

The parent would either shrug their shoulders and say it’s the AI way or no way, or the parent would hopefully acknowledge the helpfulness of the AI in providing a handy reminder about the importance of wearing seat belts. One does have to have sympathy that any hectic parent can easily neglect to keep in mind the importance of seat belts. I’ve pointed out earlier that this can be a serious omission of ensuring that that those backseat passengers aren’t going to become flying projectiles.

True Self-Driving Cars And Seat Belts

Let’s now turn our attention to true self-driving cars.

In a true self-driving car, there is no need to have a human driver present. If one happens to be in the true self-driving car, it is not especially noteworthy since there are unlikely to be any driving controls inside the true self-driving car anyway. As such, all those humans inside the true self-driving car are passengers, regardless of whether they are adults or children, and regardless of any kind of driving prowess they each might have.

Here’s where things get really tricky.

It has been predicted that the interior of AI self-driving cars will be radically different than the interior of today’s conventional cars. One of the main reasons to redo the interior is that there is no longer a need to have the driving controls, which normally takes up a chunk of space at the front of the interior. Likewise, there is no need to have a driver’s seat.

The car interior now becomes a freed-up space that can be used for whatever you want it to be used for.

Some automakers are possibly going to be put swivel seats that allow passengers to face each other, or not, as they might wish to swivel back-and-forth during a driving journey. There are automakers that are going to be putting recliners into the car, or perhaps even beds. The thinking is that people will start using their cars to take them on longer trips and will want to sleep in their car. Or, maybe during their morning commute to work they might want to take a brief nap.

This is exciting and will utterly change our perception of the use of a car interior.

I’ll bring us all back to earth and point out that whatever you do in this interior space, you still need to have safety restraints.

Sorry about that, I hope this didn’t burst anyone’s bubble.

I’ve seen some concept designs of car interiors that omit entirely any kind of seat belts. I know that a concept design is supposed to look sleek and sexy, but I have a bit of concern about not showing the seat belts. You might say it’s a small omission and not worthy of noting. I guess we’ll disagree on that point. I don’t want people having false expectations that they will now be suddenly rid of seat belts.

Indeed, when I speak at AI industry conferences, it does seem that a lot of people falsely believe that there will be no need for any safety restraints, and certainly not seat belts.

Why is this?

I’ll start with the point that makes me aghast. I have some people that say there will never be any car accidents once we have all AI self-driving cars.

This is some magical notion that the AI self-driving cars will all carefully coordinate their actions and we’ll never again have any kind of car collisions.

This is some wild kind of dreamworld that these people have bought into.

The first aspect is that there will be an ongoing mix of both AI self-driving cars and human driven cars for quite a while, maybe forever, and thus there is not going to be this Utopian world of solely AI self-driving cars (as I had mentioned earlier herein). You had best face the facts. And, in that case, we are going to have car collisions and impacts with other cars, presumably mainly AI self-driving cars and human driven cars making adverse contact with each other.

Even if we somehow removed all human driven cars from the roadways, and we had only AI self-driving cars, explain to me what an AI self-driving car is going to do when a dog rushes out into the street from behind a large tree. The physics of the situation are going to be that the AI self-driving car will need to hit its brakes. For those of you that counter-argue that the AI should have detected the dog beforehand, I defy you to be able to offer any means by which all such “surprises” will be eliminated from the world of driving as know it. A dog hidden behind a tree is not something that can be so readily detected.

This brings up another point about being inside a car. You are not wearing seat belts only because of car accidents. Whenever the driver of a car has to hit the brakes, or maybe take a curve very fast, or perform other such maneuvers, the humans inside the car are going to be tossed back-and-forth. The seat belts are used for that safety purpose too. It’s not just when there is an actual car accident that the seat belts come to play.

You might not give much thought to all that your seat belt does for you in any given driving journey. I would wager that if we put a sensor onto your seat belt and it kept track of how many times it helped restrain you, for just your daily commute to work, we’d likely see that the seat belt is a silent but crucial form of safety for you.

How will safety belts function when you are in a swivel seat of your fancy new AI self-driving car?

Do we need a new kind of seat belt?

Will people be upset that their seat belts restrain them, which maybe right now they don’t notice as much, but when they are wanting to move around in those swivel seats it could become a more apparent matter.

I’d also guess that people will be tempted to take off their seat belts.

Currently, in a conventional car interior, if you take off your seat belt, there’s not much else you can do anyway, and so why bother to remove it. In the case of the car interior for AI self-driving cars, you might be using the interior to play games or do something else that you’d prefer to be freed-up and not have to remain in your seated position and restrained by the seat belt.

You can also imagine the difficulty now of having air bags inside the self-driving car.

Where will the human be and what is their position?

Will the airbag deploy in a manner that befits the position of the human passenger?

With a conventional car, you are pretty much guaranteed where the humans will be seated. This makes it relatively easy to position the air bags.

In a true self-driving car, the humans will have additional flexibility in terms of where they will be seated, their angle, their pitch, and so on. This becomes a kind of moving target and not easy to make sure an airbag will be of help to them when needed (and not a danger either).

If the humans are reclining, we once again need to identify what kind of seat belt can aid them. The same is the case with full-on prone position for sleeping inside a moving car.

I suppose you might right away be saying that trains allow you to sleep on-board and you don’t need to wear a seat belt. Cruise ships let you sleep without a seat belt. Airplanes generally let you sleep without a seat belt or they tell you to go ahead and keep it loosely around you, and also be ready to awaken if prompted and then sit up and make sure your seat belt is properly on you.

Of course, the answer is that a moving car is not the same as an airplane, nor the same as a cruise ship, nor the same as train.

I hope you see that’s apparent. Its closest cousin would be a bus. Most overnight buses admittedly let you sleep on-board without any specialized seat belt, though many would say this is a loophole in the rules and endangers people. Perhaps the low number of miles driven while sleeping in a bus is little enough that no one wants to hassle it, plus, the thinking is that a bus is big and not perhaps as prone to coming to sudden stops or getting into accidents.

The vast number of miles that people will be going in their self-driving cars, along with the aspect that these are cars, meaning they are relatively smaller than a bus and more likely to have severe consequences to the occupants when something untoward happens, it all adds up that we’ll need to have specialized seat belts for dealing with being inside these self-driving cars. And, we’ll need to encourage passengers to use those seat belts.

It is anticipated that AI self-driving cars will become the mainstay of the ridesharing cars. If that’s the case, should the AI act as an “enforcer” and get those that are riding in a ridesharing car to put on their seat belts and keep those seat belts on?

I mention this because there won’t be a human driver in the ridesharing car that could suggest it to the passengers.

It would seem to be up to the AI to do something about this.

For more about ridesharing and the advent of AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For my article about taking family trips in AI self-driving cars, see:

For the productivity elements of being inside an AI self-driving car, see my article:

For the non-stop use of AI self-driving cars, see my article:

AI Interaction And Seat Belts

I realize that when I suggest that the AI should be informing passengers about their seat belts that it has a kind of creepiness factor to it.

Imagine that you get into a ridesharing car with your friends. You are sitting in swivel seats and having a good time, including drinking, which assuming you are legally able to drink, and since none of you is driving, you can readily go ahead and party in that AI self-driving car. Get lit, as they say. The AI at the start of the driving trip tells you all to put on your seat belts. You all comply.

During the driving journey, and perhaps after getting a bit tipsy, some of you decide to remove your seat belts.

The AI is likely going to be able to detect this. The sensors in the seat belt will inform the AI. The inward facing cameras will be continually scanned by the AI and it will be able to visually detect that the seat belts have been removed. The AI speaks up and tells you all that it is important that you keep your seat belts intact.


I guess so.

If I say it’s for your own protection, does that help?

Anyway, let’s move past the privacy issues that this raises, which I’ve covered elsewhere, and focus again on the AI aspects and the use of seat belts.

For more about privacy aspects, see my article:

Suppose that in their drunken state, these passengers refuse to put back on their seat belts.

Since this is a ridesharing car, if the self-driving car makes a sudden stop, doing so lawfully to save the passengers, but if the passengers than go flying around the interior, who is responsible? Is it the ridesharing service because they did not enforce the use of seat belts? Is it the miscreants that opted to refuse compliance with the AI urged use of the seat belts?

I am betting that a lawyer will be happy to go after the ridesharing service. All told, I’d guess that we’ll eventually need to decide as a society what we want done about these kinds of situations. The easiest “solution” is that if the AI detects the seat belts are not being used, or being used improperly, and if the passengers won’t comply, the AI would indicate it is bringing the ride to a gradual halt and will pull over to the side of the road.

This is not an entirely satisfactory solution, as you can imagine, because if the passengers are drunk, and suppose they then get out of the ridesharing car and get injured, because they were brought to a halt at the side of the road, who is to blame for that?

I’ll remove the drunkenness from the equation, since I don’t want you to get mired into thinking that’s the only situation involving this kind of dilemma. You put your children into a self-driving car and tell it to take them to school. When you got them into the AI self-driving car, they all dutifully put on their seat belts. Away the AI self-driving car goes.

Once it gets not even down the block, the kids all take off their seat belts. They want to roam around inside the AI self-driving car and have some fun. No stinking seat belts for them. The AI detects that the kids have removed their seat belts. It gives them a stern warning. They laugh and mock the AI.

What now?

It could be that the AI tries to dial-up the parents and get them onto an interior display screen, showing them via the camera the crazed children playing around inside the AI self-driving car. I’m assuming those kids are going to be in deep trouble that night when they get back home. This “solution” might not be viable either due to the potential that the AI cannot reach the parents, perhaps due to electronic communications blockages or the parents are not available, etc.

You might say that the AI should just immediately turn around and take the rebelling children back to their home. This is not a good solution either because they are now presumably not wearing their seat belts, and for whatever distance the AI needs to drive back home, those kids are all in danger because they are not wearing their seat belts. Plus, it could be that the parent has already left the home and the AI would be taking those kinds back to an empty house anyway.

The whole topic about children being inside a self-driving car without any adult supervision is one that we as a society have not yet broached.

There are lots of other issues that can arise and there is a slew of questions yet to be asked and resolved. I realize that you might insist that we don’t let children ride alone in an AI self-driving car, but I’d say that will either be a proposed law that no one will agree to, or a law that many will break. It is going to be very tempting to use the AI self-driving car as a means to transport your children to school, and to football practice, and to the dentist, and so on, doing so on your behalf and without having to have an adult present in the self-driving car.

I’ve predicted that this will likely lead to a new job or role in our society, namely being the position of an AI self-driving car ride-along adult that can supervise children that are in the AI self-driving car. It requires no driving ability and nor license to drive. It is in a sense a nanny-like role. I can envision ridesharing services that will try to differentiate themselves from other ridesharing services by providing these “in-car nanny services” for an added fee when you use their ridesharing self-driving cars.

For my article about the jobs of the future related to AI self-driving cars, see:

For my Top 10 predictions about AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For the aspect of Gen Z and the advent of AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For my article about the dangers of kids being in moving AI self-driving cars, see:


I remember when I was a child that my parents would sometimes turn around from the front seat of the car and loudly tell me and my siblings that we better stop messing around or we’d be in a lot of trouble. That usually worked, and we settled down. At least for a few minutes.

For AI self-driving cars, the use of seat belts will still be crucial and amount to pretty much the same as today’s conventional cars. There will likely though be human drivers and passengers that might become complacent when in a semi-autonomous car, and falsely believe they can either remove their seat belt or wiggle around it. The AI can likely detect this and act as a kind of seat belt cop.

When we get to the true self-driving cars, the good news is that there is no longer a human driver that needs to be properly seat belted in. The bad news is that the passengers are bound to want to move around and have freedom within the moving car. Wearing a seat belt won’t be the top of their list of things to do while in an AI self-driving car. Plus, with the variations in car interiors, the odds are that having conventional seat belts won’t cut the mustard and we’ll need other approaches to be invented or brought to the marketplace.

The toughest aspect about the true self-driving cars involves having unattended children in the self-driving car. In theory, if an adult is present, you can hold the adult responsible for making sure that everyone on the self-driving car is properly wearing their seat belt at all times. Without an adult, what are we to do? The AI can certainly detect the tomfoolery, but it is not readily going to be able to enforce the seat belt policy per se.

There are lots of catchy sayings that have evolved around wearing seat belts.

Click it or ticket.

Confucius says wear your seat belt.

No safety, know pain.

Seat belts save lives, buckle up every time.

We’ll need to come up with some new slogans for the advent of AI self-driving cars.

AI says wear your seat belt.

No seat belts, AI no go.

The AI says, don’t forget to fasten your seat belt.

Well, I’m sure that someone can come up with something catchier than those potential tags.

The real work is going to be solving the seat belt “problem” and leveraging the AI to aid in saving people by getting them to wear their seat belts.

That’s a worthy catchphrase.

Copyright 2019 Dr. Lance Eliot

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.

[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column:]

Seat Belts and Safety Restraints for AI Autonomous Cars 2

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