Dr Shuo Li, an expert in intelligent transport systems at Newcastle University, said: “For example, when an 80-year-old male driver takes over, the vehicle could provide him with a longer lead time to do that.
“So if there’s an obstacle on the road, several miles ahead, the vehicle sensor feed can communicate with the infrastructure to be able to provide a relatively longer reaction time for people.”
Previous studies have shown that women in general are less positive about the idea of driverless cars, but researchers said the new results show they are actually able to use and interact with them better than men.
“Women often do not realize how good they are at driving, but our results found they actually perform slightly better,” added Dr Li.
The team at Newcastle discovered the gender differences during testing at the university’s state-of-the art DriveLAB simulator, which mimics the conditions of being asked to retake control of a level 3 driverless vehicle to avoid a stationary car on the road ahead.
Level 3 automated vehicles allow drivers to be completely disengaged from driving and safely perform other tasks.
Mercedes-Benz is the only company so far to have produced a level 3 car that can be legally driven on German roads, with most requiring that drivers still monitor the road, even if they are not physically controlling the vehicle.
Totally disengaged from driving
For the research, 33 women and 43 men were asked to totally disengage from driving or watching on the road, and instead read aloud from the BBC News website on an iPad.
After a short delay, the simulator asked the participants to take back control of the vehicle, giving them 20 seconds to spot and avoid crashing into the parked car.
Results showed ‘gender differences’, with women exhibiting better takeover performance than men. The mean reaction time to take back control of the vehicle for women was 2.45 seconds, compared with 2.63 seconds for men.
Female drivers were also quicker to move out of the way of the stationary car, indicating to change lanes after an average of 13.52 seconds compared to 13.76 seconds for men.
And the steering wheel angle was also found to be closer to the central line for women, veering 8.13 degrees from the center, compared to 8.93 degrees for men, and demonstrating a more stable takeover.
The team believes that driverless cars could come with programmable settings such as mobile phones, which could be individualised depending on the user.