New research has found that connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) are set to transform the lives of six out of every 10 people in the UK, offering particular freedom to those with disabilities, older people and the young.
The study – Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Revolutionising Mobility in Society – was published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and conducted with Strategy&, the strategy consulting arm of PwC.
The research, which canvassed the views of more than 3,600 respondents, is the first comprehensive UK-based study of the human impact of connected and autonomous vehicles.
CAVs have the potential to reduce social exclusion significantly, according to the survey, with six out of 10 people questioned (57%) predicting that the new technology would improve their quality of life.
The impact of CAVs could be even greater for young people, found the research, with 71% of those aged 17 to 24 expecting the technology to improve their lives.
According to the study, consumer sentiment towards connected and autonomous vehicles is improving, with a slight majority (56%) feeling positive about the benefits of CAVs.
Excitement was greatest among young people, with nearly half of those questioned (49%) saying they would get into a self-driving car today if one were available.
“The benefits of connected and autonomous vehicles are life-changing, offering more people greater independence, freedom to socialise, work and earn more, and access services more easily,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive.
“While fully autonomous cars will be a step change for society, this report shows people are already seeing their benefits.
“The challenge now is to create the conditions that will allow this technology to thrive, given how it will deliver wider societal advantages.”
What are people most looking forward to about connected and autonomous vehicles?
Among those surveyed, the biggest attraction of owning a connected and autonomous vehicle was seen as its ability to reduce stress, with automatic braking and parking and the car’s ability to self-diagnose faults cited as the features most likely to help with this.
Respondents also felt that the freedom to travel spontaneously and socialise with friends and family were life-changing benefits. Indeed, 88% of those questioned believe CAVs will improve their social life, helping them to get out of the house more frequently.
Connected and autonomous vehicles are seen as offering particular support for people with mobility-related disabilities, with almost half of this group (49%) feeling a CAV would let them pursue hobbies outside the home or eat out more often (46%).
Two-fifths of this group (39%) also said they would benefit from better access to healthcare.
The research noted that with adults in this group being less likely than the rest of the population to have a formal qualification, to be in paid employment and to own a car, connected and autonomous vehicles offer the potential for them to access education and better paid jobs.
Strategy& believes that CAVs have the potential to give a million more people access to further education, enabling them to increase their earning potential by an average of just over £8,500 per year.
The report also highlights how self-driving cars are set to benefit older people, of whom almost a third have problems walking or using a bus, with many also unable to drive due to ill-health, poor eyesight or prohibitive insurance costs.
Almost half of the survey respondents (47%) believe a self-driving car would make it easier for them to complete basic day-to-day tasks such as grocery shopping, while 45% also expect to be able to enjoy more cultural activities.
For young people, meanwhile, the cost of car ownership, especially through high insurance premiums, can be a particular barrier to mobility. More than a quarter of those surveyed (29%) saw this cost as restricting their freedom, while young people also cited the high cost and infrequency of public transport as a limitation.
The economic potential of connected and autonomous vehicles in the UK
The researchers noted that while fully connected and autonomous vehicles are not expected to become mainstream until 2030, most new cars now include a sat nav or Bluetooth connection, while a majority are also available with advanced driver assistance systems such as collision warning or autonomous emergency braking.
SMMT believes that connected and autonomous vehicles offer a £51 billion economic opportunity for the UK, while also having the potential to prevent as many as 25,000 road accidents and save 2,500 lives.
Its new research suggests that CAVs could deliver a further economic boost by getting more people into education and work and giving them easier access to healthcare, amenities and leisure activities.
“There is a real risk that this momentum and competitor advantage in the UK will stall if we don’t do more to create positive public perception, overcoming our inherent risk averse culture,” said Mark Couttie, Strategy& partner.
“Expanding people’s horizons about the advantages of fully autonomous cars is a vital first step. This means better communicating the art of the possible to increase social acceptance and dispel concerns that our survey identified relating to cost and safety.
“Significant investment must also be made to improve the connectivity infrastructure across the UK road network and this report provides a number of clear recommendations to ensure that we capitalise on this window of opportunity.”