Children in Autonomous Vehicles

NOW is the time for us to consider the unique needs of children, BEFORE AVs become commonplace on our roadways.

AVs are in development and being tested on roads in dozens of communities nationwide—but very few developers, regulators, or lawmakers have begun the important work of thinking about how this will affect our most vulnerable passengers:  CHILDREN.

Any technological change of this scale is bound to bring some unanticipated consequences.  But it’s a cop out to cite this as an excuse when harm comes to children!  It is not unexpected that children ride in vehicles, nor that they have safety needs that differ from those of adults.  Despite this, children have been the innocent victims of so-called progress in the past, for instance when air bags were introduced.

Tragedies are entirely avoidable if the grown-ups in charge are willing to stop and ask:

“How might this technology affect children?”

“What must we do to make sure all phases of this transition are safe for them?”

So, today, we have an historic opportunity—as well as an obligation to children—to learn from past mistakes.  Let’s be proactive, rather than reactive, by ensuring that children are not an afterthought as we progress toward the future of transportation.

As described on this page, CPSTs now have many ways to learn about children and AVs, provide education to the public, and participate in advocacy efforts.

SKW’s Children in Automated Vehicles Resources

In 2021, the Children in Autonomous Vehicles Consortium, a volunteer group formed by Safe Kids Worldwide, launched a website that is a tool kit for anyone advocating for children on this topic.  The Consortium, which operated from spring 2019 through spring 2021, prepared these resources following a call-to-action document prepared by a Blue Ribbon Panel that Safe Kids convened in 2018.

Learn more about the Consortium and find its tool kit here:

Safe Kids Worldwide—Children in Autonomous Vehicles

Read the Blue Ribbon Panel’s document here:

Final Report from the Safe Kids Blue Ribbon Panel

U.S. Governmental Information on AVs

The federal government controls safety standards for vehicles on U.S. roadways, several of which directly or indirectly address the safety needs of children.  Currently, NHTSA and other stakeholders have expressed interest in making amendments to many standards in order to remove barriers to AVs.  However, because the existing regulatory structure has many facets that influence the protection of children, any amendments should first be carefully scrutinized by people with knowledge of child passenger safety for potential consequences to children.

NHTSA’s AV TEST Initiative is a website on which government and industry can voluntarily post AV-related information.  Find it here:

NHTSA Autonomous Vehicle Test Initiative, a Voluntary Tracking Tool

Read the U.S. DOT’s documents that outline the administration’s intentions for participating in the rollout of AVs:

U.S. Department of Transportation Automated Vehicle Activities

Articles on Children in AVs

The following are articles on AVs that have appeared in Safe Ride News.

Consider Children in Autonomous Vehicles

SRN September/October 2018:  This guest article was contributed by Lorrie Walker, the Training and Technical Advisor of Safe Kids Worldwide; she is now retired.

Transdev Autonomous School Bus
Young children in a Florida town took this self-driving shuttle to school this year, until NHTSA ordered the provider to stop.

Safe Kids Worldwide convened a Blue Ribbon Panel that met in April 2018 to highlight the need to address the safety of child occupants in autonomous vehicles (AVs).  For this discussion, the panel defined “child” as one who is under age 13.

Young children in a Florida town took this self-driving shuttle to school this year, until NHTSA ordered the provider to stop. As autonomous vehicles are now being tested in over two dozen cities, little to nothing is known about how child occupant safety is, was, or will be tested and evaluated to assure appropriate protection of children at the same or higher level as adults.  As a lead up to the in-person panel meeting in San Antonio, Texas, the 17 invited panelists spent several months narrowing and focusing on the issues.  In addition, all CPS technicians were invited to participate in a survey to share their ideas, levels of interest (or disinterest), and questions they hoped the panel would address.  More than 1,300 CPSTs participated in the survey.

Read More

It’s Time to Think About Autonomous Vehicles

SRN Sept/Oct 2016:  An editorial by SRN editor Denise Donaldson

I’d have to have my head planted firmly in the sand if my initial skepticism about self-driving vehicles hasn’t budged over time. In a few short years, what has gone from bold­ predictions by certain tech giants has developed into mainstream acceptance. Target dates for various rollouts of autonomous vehicles seem right around the corner, rather than in some sci-fi future. In September, the DOT released safety guidelines for autonomous vehicle performance, including a model for state policies.

So today, I’d say I feel a sense of astonishment, if not full acceptance. From the start, my incredulity has been challenged by the list of respected individuals and companies that have become fully committed to the success of this new technology. (See below for a summary of such efforts.) However, is all this activity spurred by the fact that autonomous vehicles are so promising? Or is it more driven by fear of missing out on what experts expect to be a multi-trillion dollar a year industry in the future?

Read More