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UK public still open minded over fully autonomous vehicles

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People living in the UK are highly familiar with the concept of driverless cars but have not yet formed hardened opinions about the technology, according to a nationwide survey carried out on behalf of the UK Autodrive programme.

The online survey, conducted by researchers at Cambridge University’s engineering department and the department of psychology, was completed by 2,850 UK residents.

It found that more than three-quarters (76%) of those surveyed had heard of driverless vehicles, comparing favourably to driver assistance technologies that are already commercially available, such as adaptive cruise control (familiar to 40% of those surveyed), automated emergency braking (38%) and lane-keeping systems (34%).

The survey found that 35% of respondents would use a fully self-driving vehicle (without a driver or steering wheel) once one was available to them. Only 15% of the respondents expressed strong opposition to the idea.

Nevertheless, some reticence was expressed when it came to the ability of new technology to replace human involvement completely.

In response to questions about what levels of control they would like to retain, 85% expressed a desire to retain some control over the choice of route, and 74% wanted to retain an option to drive manually.

The 49-question survey also asked people what they would do while riding in a self-driving vehicle, with more than half (55%) saying they would look out at the scenery. Checking emails (37%), making phone calls (35%) and eating or drinking (also 35%) were among the other popular choices.

There was also a wide range of views expressed in terms of when people would want to use a self-driving vehicle, with 23% of respondents saying that they would most use one for shopping excursions, followed by commuting (22%), social/leisure travel (22%), and a sizeable 15% who would be mainly interested in using self-driving vehicles after drinking alcohol.

When asked how they would like to summon a self-driving vehicle if using one as a form of public transport, 45% of respondents said they would like to use a smartphone app, though calling one up from home (27%) or catching one at a bus stop (23%) were also popular options.

A large majority (80%) of those surveyed felt that self-driving vehicles would assist people with impairments or disabilities, but the results were far more varied when it came to such vehicles being used by other members of the public.

Just over a third (36%) said they would recommend self-driving vehicles to people of a similar age and lifestyle to themselves, while 42% said they would recommend them for their parents or older loved ones.

Tim Armitage, UK Autodrive project director, said: “The survey results give some fascinating insights into what the UK public currently think about self-driving vehicles, and we will continue to dig deeper into this as the UK Autodrive project continues."

Pat Langdon, principal research associate at the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre, added: “For a technology that is not yet commercially available, it is striking that so many people have already heard about self-driving vehicles.

“There is obviously still plenty to be done in terms of educating the public – particularly when it comes to the potential benefits this technology could bring ­– but there is already lots of positivity in these initial findings.” 

Following on from the first wave of public attitudes research, UK Autodrive will now stage a series of workshops in locations across the UK to further explore the reasons behind some of the opinions expressed and to investigate ways in which attitudes towards self-driving vehicle technology might be further improved in the future.

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  • Winston - 14/08/2017 10:28

    A question not evidently covered is "Who's responsible for the actions of the vehicle in fully-automated mode?". In the event of an incident, collision or worse, injury or death, is it the manufacturer, owner or occupant(s)?

  • Colin Birch - 14/08/2017 11:35

    Winston makes a good point. Also, I can't be the only one who thinks that all the attention and time placed on self-driving cars is just Emperor’s clothes. I’m prepared to stick my neck out and say that there will never be fully autonomous cars, i.e. level 5, in any worthwhile number on UK roads. It’s tantamount to hover cars and pill sized meals that never happened.

  • E. Hammond - 06/10/2017 16:43

    @Colin Birch You are hopelessly out of touch, like the people who thought computers and the internet were a fad, and clueless about the capabilities of the technology. Driverless cars are not some futuristic notion, they exist NOW, and the technology is almost completely mature. In 15 years, human driven cars will be non-existent, probably not even legal for the general public, and the next generation will look on the present era of road travel with absolute horror, the same way people today look back at things like mouth pipetting. Today's kids are the last generation who will ever take a driving test.

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