UK adults don’t support driverless cars, finds IMechE

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Nearly a third of UK adults think we will never switch to having only driverless cars on the roads, while 60% say they would always prefer to drive themselves rather than use a self-driving vehicle, according to a new opinion poll from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

The poll, which surveyed 2,014 adults in the UK in July 2019, follows a similar survey by the Institution in 2017, found the public remains wary of driverless technology, with two-thirds of people uncomfortable with the idea of travelling in an autonomous car, the same level as two years ago.

More people (32%) would like the vehicles to be restricted to driving only up to than 30mph, up from 27% in 2017.

The poll results outline the challenges that car manufacturers and technology companies face in building public trust in autonomous driving systems, which was dented last year by news of the crash of a driverless Uber vehicle in Arizona, which killed a pedestrian.

In its report on the survey, Public Perceptions: Driverless Cars, IMechE calls for more trials with autonomous vehicles sharing the roads so that people can see the cars in action and have a chance to ride in them.

“Consumer confidence is essential for autonomous technology to succeed, but if anything, that confidence has waned in the last two years. During that time, there have been very few controlled trials on our roads to allow people to experience the vehicles at first hand. As engineers, we remain convinced of the need to explore the potential advantages the technology offers,” said Dr Colin Brown, chief executive of IMechE.

“The Government has plans for trials of self-driving cars on roads in Edinburgh and London by 2021, but we would like to see more taking place in other locations in the UK.”

The poll found attitudes towards autonomous technology varying significantly by gender, age and by region. A third of men are comfortable about travelling in a driverless vehicle, whilst less than one fifth of women say the same.

The report found 42% of people aged between 18 and 24 feel confident about being an occupant in a driverless car, compared 11% for those aged 75 and over.

People in Scotland, Wales and the South West are more cautious about driverless technology than those in the South East and the Midlands.

The report recommends:

  1. We need to see more trials with autonomous vehicles sharing the roads. This will allow people to experience these vehicles in action, validate the technology and increase public confidence. Areas such as business parks, airports, university campuses and potentially small towns could be used as controlled sites for autonomous vehicles.
  1. The Government must accelerate the development of the regulatory framework for testing and use of autonomous cars, insurance liability, tax and revamped Highway Code to ensure clarity for road users in the near and longer term.
  1. The industry and government should continue to collect data to assess driverless cars to show if the technology can deliver the safety, pollution and cost benefits it promises. These data could also be used to influence a shift from individual driver insurance towards insurance for the vehicle.
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Adam divides his time as an editor between the worlds of aviation and motoring. These worlds may seem a little diverse today, but autonomous technology and future urban mobility is bringing them ever-closer. Adam is also chairman of the Vehicle Dynamics International Awards.

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