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New study: public continues to be wary of driverless cars

30 August 2017

The majority of people (66 percent) would be uncomfortable travelling in a driverless car at 70mph, according to a new study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The news follows last week’s announcement that the Government has awarded a contract to TRL to test platoons of driverless lorries on major British roads by the end of next year.

According to the findings, younger people tend to be more accepting of the technology - with 45 percent of 25-36 year olds saying they would be comfortable in a 70mph driverless car, compared to just 13 percent for 65-74 year olds and 8 percent for the over 75s. Women tended to be more cautious about the technology, with 72 percent saying they would be uncomfortable compared to 60 percent for men.

The survey found that 50 percent of the public think that humans are better drivers than computers/cars, despite the fact that 90 percent of UK road accidents are the result of driver error. While the survey also showed that there is a reluctance from the public to allow people who are sight-impaired to be the sole occupant of a driverless car - with just 23 percent saying this should be allowed. There was also very little acceptance for people who are intoxicated being responsible for a driverless car, with just 12 percent saying this would be acceptable.

Philippa Oldham, Head of Transport at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said in response the results:

“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 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.

“This study shows that the majority of people would be uncomfortable being a passenger in a driverless car travelling at speed and that older people and women are particularly wary. 

“Driverless technology has been touted as improving accessibility for all, but the survey showed strong reluctance for a sight-impaired person to be the sole occupant of a driverless car.

“Given the huge benefits to this technology it is vital for Government and manufacturers to 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 to 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.”

The Institution commissioned ICM Unlimited in July 2017 to ask six questions to 2,053 members of the public regarding driverless cars. For the full results read Public perceptions: driverless cars.  

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