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The Problem With Self-Driving Cars That No One Is Talking About

L.C. David is a freelance writer from Florida whose hobbies include watching others enjoy boat rides, theme park rides, and car rides.

It's a common condition that may keep many from enjoying self driving cars.

It's a common condition that may keep many from enjoying self driving cars.

According to Business Insider, there may be 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020. Predictions of fewer traffic accidents and less stress for drivers along with the rapid pace of development shows that the self-driving car is imminent.

But there is one group of people who looks at the self-driving car with less enthusiasm and more skepticism.

This group of people suffer from a condition that is so common you may not even think about it unless you suffer from it.

A Miserable Condition

The room starts spinning. Your heart beats faster. Your stomach tightens, and your head begins to ache. The clamminess begins to take over your body. You feel sweaty but cold and you realize that contents of your stomach may be returning very soon. You just want it to stop, and eventually it does.

"All riders please exit to your left."

You've just experienced motion sickness.

Why Do People Get Motion Sickness?

The science of motion sickness, according to a February 2015 article from The Atlantic, is up for debate. No one truly understands why some people get sick from the extra movement caused by boats, cars, or theme park rides.

Even Charles Darwin himself suffered from motion sickness and by details from letters to his father described it as a miserable experience. (The Atlantic, Feb. 2015)

From what doctors and researchers can understand, motion sickness occurs when the body gets mixed signals. For example, if your eyes are experiencing one type of movement (such as the movement in a motion simulator) and your body, particularly your inner ears, is not experiencing that same type of movement, it can create a disconnect, causing that awful, nauseous, clammy feeling associated with motion sickness. The inner ear is responsible for our balance, and mixed signals can throw off that balance in vulnerable people.

Why do some people get sick and others have very little issues? No one really knows, but genetics seems to play a key role.

For those who suffer from motion sickness, the world is often spinning.

For those who suffer from motion sickness, the world is often spinning.

Is There a Way to Relieve the Symptoms?

As a sufferer of severe motion sickness, I am one of the many who dread the rise of the self-driving car. I am the primary driver in my family. At theme parks, I hold their coats and browse the shops while they enjoy the rides. At the beach, I often get sick just floating and swimming in the waves.

The last time I went to the Keys, a snorkeling excursion out in those beautiful waters resulted in me laying on a bench on the boat, wishing for my life to be over as I felt my stomach roll with every wave.

Even as a child, my brother, sister, and I all suffered from motion sickness just riding in the car. My mother, the only one in the family who didn't have motion sickness, would try to drive very carefully, avoiding sudden stops and turns when she could. But she would invariably end up still cleaning up our regurgitated breakfast from the back seats.

As an adult, my motion sickness has only gotten worse. If I do ride with someone or venture on a theme park ride, I'm likely to pay for it for hours if not days with dizziness and nausea. Even traditional medicines such as Meclizine have only a token effect. They don't tend to prevent the sickness but rather help me to get over it more quickly.

We've been trying to combat the mysteries of motion sickness for a long time.

We've been trying to combat the mysteries of motion sickness for a long time.

Why Would Self-Driving Cars Be a Problem?

People with motion sickness can often compensate for their issues by being in control of the motions. So riding in a car with someone may make them feel sick, partly because they can't fully control and anticipate the movements of steering and turning.

But if they drive the car, their brain knows ahead of time that they will be stopping. Their foot is braking and their body has learned that this means "stop." So the motion sickness can be reduced or eliminated as long as the sufferer is in control of the movements. It's when he or she lacks control and can't prepare for the changes in motion that the sickness emerges.

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The self-driving car, while safer, cannot adapt to a motion sick passenger. Reports from those who have ridden in the self-driving cars say that the ride can be jerky at times. Brian Fung noted in an article from The Washington Post that "your head gets thrown back a bit as it accelerates like a teenager with a new license." He also notes that the braking can be a bit jerky.

While manufacturers say they are working on making the experience smoother, those details alone make my palms feel a bit sweaty.

The jerky ride of the car might be an annoyance for most riders, but for those of us with motion sickness, it means that this self-driving car better have a self-cleaning feature as well. It's going to need one if I have to ride in it.

You Can't Stop Progress

Ultimately, I know that I can't stop progress. Reducing traffic, accidents, and fatalities means that with self-driving cars, our roads will be safer and, for most people, lives will be easier.

But for those of us who suffer from the extreme effects of motion sickness, we are watching this progress with just a tiny bit of trepidation.

Maybe once the self driving car is mastered, those researchers can help find the cure for all the motion sickness they will ultimately be inducing.

Riding in a Self-Driving Car


  • Beck, Julie. (2015). "The Mysterious Science of Motion Sickness." The Atlantic.
  • Fung, Brian. (2016). "I rode in Google’s self-driving car. This is what impressed me the most." Washington Post.
  • Greenough, John. (2015). "10 Million Self-Driving Cars Will Be On The Road By 2020." Business Insider.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 L C David


Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on January 13, 2018:

I would like them to test these vehicles on the street of Beijing. Like the song say...if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere...

Tamara Wilhite from Fort Worth, Texas on January 08, 2018:

Wait until hackers infect cars with malware - pay the ransom or you cannot go to work. Don't give them again, and they'll make the car extra jittery or lock you inside as the car goes to the police station.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on August 26, 2016:

That's an interesting take on the self driving issue. I am also a skeptic but more from a technology point of view. I just think they are underestimating the difficulty of putting these cars on the road and sharing it with traditional human drivers. I wrote a hub on this topic.

The holy grail of self driving vehicles.

L C David (author) from Florida on May 16, 2016:

Some of these cars that I read about while doing my research don't even have steering wheels.

You know how sometimes you are working on your computer and suddenly an update happens right then and shuts it down? I certainly hope that never happens with a self-driving car!

It's exciting, scary, and concerning!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 16, 2016:

I don't get motion sickness, but I'm not sure I like the idea of a self-driving car. Like you, I need to be in control. Not only that, software malfunctions all the time. What would happen if the software quit working while on the highway? Can the driver take over or will the car just stop moving? Then there's the cost of repairs. Holy Moly, can you imagine?

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