New Study Reveals Public Caution About Driverless Cars

Autonomous vehicles have come a long way in terms of their technical prowess, but a recent study from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) suggests there is still a way to go before the public are sufficiently convinced to put their faith in them.

It revealed that 66% of people feel uncomfortable traveling in a driverless car at 70mph.  As is common with many new technologies, younger people were significantly more accepting of autonomous technology than their older peers.  Some 45% of 25-36 year olds would be quite happy to travel in an autonomous vehicle at such a speed, compared to just 8% for those over 75 years of age.

What’s more, women appeared to be more cautious than men, with just 28% of women saying they would be comfortable versus 40% of men.

Illusory superiority

The survey also revealed that many of us believe humans to be significantly better drivers than machines, despite traffic statistics revealing that 90% of accidents in the UK are as a result of driver error.

There was also significant apprehension from a group who might stand to benefit the most from autonomous transportation.  Sight-impaired participants in the study were extremely cautious about being the sole occupant of a driverless vehicle, with just 23% believing this should even be allowed.  Similarly low figures were reported for circumstances whereby an intoxicated individual was the sole occupant of a driverless vehicle.

“The benefits of driverless technology are huge. Not only could the technology help save hundreds of lives, but there are estimates that the overall UK economic benefit could be as much as £51 billion a year due to fewer accidents, improved productivity and increased trade,” the researchers say.  “The Government and manufacturers have big ambitions for the future of driverless cars, but there is still a long way to go in terms of public approval.”

Despite these significant benefits, the study highlights the considerable work still required to ensure that the public are fully on board with the technology, especially among the elderly and female demographics.

What’s more, the findings are consistent with a larger study conducted by the European Commission earlier this year.  It revealed that just 22% of Europeans would be comfortable being driven in a driverless car in traffic.

It suggests there is still much to be done, and the IMechE researchers urge both government and vehicle manufacturers to do more to assuage any concerns the public may have and generally improve the image of the technology.

“Given the huge benefits to this technology it is vital for Government and manufacturers develop a public campaign with more demonstrations and user trials to build awareness and trust in this technology. In addition to the driverless lorries trials, another idea could be for driverless technology demonstrators to be rolled out on city roads, allowing people the see and get first-hand experience of these vehicles in action. These cars could be a particularly eye-catching colour, and their presence on busy city roads could help make people more aware of, accustomed to and accepting of the technology,” they say.