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Are UK drivers ready to give up the wheel?

Google self driving car 480p

A survey of UK motorists released today shows that people who find driving stressful and are confident about technology are, on average, more comfortable with the prospect of autonomous vehicles on our roads.

The finding is part of a wide-reaching research project by Goodyear and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) to investigate how drivers feel about interacting with autonomous vehicles (AVs) on the road.

Building on a 2015 joint research project that explored how drivers carry out and experience interactions with others on the road, this year’s Goodyear-LSE research uncovers a number of rationales behind drivers’ responses to AVs.

Drawing on a combination of focus groups and an online survey it ultimately shows that a successful introduction of AVs will depend on understanding and addressing the complex attitudes that define the public’s view of this new technology.

Carlos Cipollitti, Director of the Goodyear Innovation Centre, said: 

“I think that we can all agree that Autonomous Vehicles are coming. But the speed and impact remain an unknown factor for most drivers. Understanding how drivers experience the road today and how they feel AVs should fit into it will therefore be key to ensuring AV’s successful introduction,”

Today’s event brings together experts in the future mobility space to exchange ideas on AVs, smart cities and smart mobility solutions for the roads of tomorrow.

Dr. Chris Tennant, who led the project for LSE, stated:

“AVs are not simply another new technology. They are a technology that is gradually emerging into an intensely social space. It is therefore no surprise that a wide range of factors influence the public’s levels of openness towards them.”

The results showed that only 25% of the 1500 UK respondents would describe themselves as comfortable with the idea of using an AV, whereas 28% feel comfortable driving alongside one. Conversely, 55% feel uncomfortable both using an AV and driving alongside one.

In the reasons they give for their levels of comfort with AVs, safety is a key factor, with 44% of UK respondents agreeing that “machines don’t have emotions so they might be better drivers than humans” and 41% answering “most accidents are caused by human error, so autonomous vehicles will be safer”.

However, concerns about AV technology persist. Sixty-four per cent of UK survey respondents felt that there needs to be a human driver in control of the vehicle, agreeing that “as a point of principle, humans should be in control of their vehicles.” Moreover, 85 per cent of UK respondents agreed that “autonomous vehicles could malfunction” and when asked whether they thought an AV should have a steering wheel, 78 per cent of UK respondents said it should.

Overall, the research demonstrates that the respondents least open to AVs are those who, on average, find co-operating with other drivers easier, and have lower optimism about technology. By contrast, those more open to AVs tend, on average, to find driving more stressful and are more technologically optimistic, perhaps seeing AVs as easier agents to deal with on the road than other human drivers.

Notes to editors

Dr Chris Tennant is available for interviews. Please contact him at C.J.Tennant@lse.ac.uk or Candy Gibson, Senior Media Relations Officer, LSE on 0207 955 7440 or c.gibson@lse.ac.uk

The executive summary of the research project is available here.

Dr Chris Tennant worked for 25 years in the financial services industry in London studying for a doctorate at the LSE. His original undergraduate degree was in classical languages and philosophy, and he subsequently qualified as a Chartered Accountant. In addition to researching social interactions on the road, he researches the interplay between moral values and rational explanation, and the development of common sense understandings of new technologies and contested science.

12 October 2016