A worker rotates the seats in the self-driving Mercedes-Benz F 015 concept car at the International CES Jan. 6, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Self-driving vehicles should make roads safer, save energy and improve mobility, but they also might make some people sick, say University of Michigan researchers in a recent report.

Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute asked more than 3,200 adults in the U.S. and five other countries what kinds of activities—many of which could cause motion sickness—they would do instead of driving in a fully self-driving vehicle.

More than a third of Americans say they would do things that increase the likelihood and severity of motion sickness, including:

  • reading
  • texting
  • watching movies or television
  • playing games
  • working

The result? About 6-12% of American adults riding in fully self-driving vehicles would be expected to experience moderate or severe motion sickness at some time. 

“Motion sickness is expected to be more of an issue in self-driving vehicles than in conventional vehicles,” Sivak said. The reason is that the following three main factors contributing to motion sickness are elevated in self-driving vehicles:

  • conflict between vestibular (balance) and visual inputs
  • inability to anticipate the direction of motion
  • lack of control over the direction of motion

Safe activities

But it’s not all bad news. The U-M report also found that more than 60% of Americans would likely engage in the following activities that would not necessarily lead to motion sickness:

  • watching the road
  • talking on the phone
  • sleeping while riding in a self-driving vehicle

Sivak and Schoettle suggest that manufacturers can design self-driving vehicles to lessen the likelihood of motion sickness by:

  • maximizing the visual field with large, transparent windows
  • mounting transparent video and work displays that require passengers to face forward
  • eliminating swivel seats
  • restricting head motion
  • installing fully reclining seats