Support for driverless cars in Britain lags behind rest of world

A new study has found that British people are the least supportive in their attitude towards driverless cars or partially autonomous vehicles, compared to consumers in the US, Australia, China, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The report by law firm Kennedys found that fewer than a third of UK respondents (28%) support the idea of fully autonomous vehicles. This compared to 75% of those questioned in China and 81% of respondents in Hong Kong.

Similarly, just under half (48%) of those polled in the UK expressed their support for partially autonomous vehicles – the joint lowest support for partial autonomy, alongside respondents from the US.

“The UK public clearly has stronger reservations about the adoption of autonomous vehicles compared to the rest of the world. In China, Hong Kong and Singapore, vehicle automation is already broadly accepted and supported, while the UK public’s support is far more limited, which could act as a barrier to us harnessing the widespread benefits of this technology,” said Richard West, Head of Liability and Innovation at Kennedys.

“The UK government has already demonstrated its appetite for broader implementation of this technology in developing a legislative framework to speed up its introduction. The obstacles to overcome are in the UK public’s perception.”

West said that although consumers acknowledged the fundamental changes taking place on UK roads, public acceptance of widespread autonomous vehicle technology was still “far from guaranteed”.

“The psychological barrier to introducing ‘ghost’ vehicles on our roads, railway and airports has not yet been adequately addressed and there is a pressing need for greater public information and education,” added West.

Autonomous vehicle fears

The study found the main reason for public concern about autonomous vehicles in the UK is safety, cited by just over two-thirds (67%) of respondents. Other reasons include fears about hacking (56%) and potential increases in car insurance costs following the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles (45%). 

Additionally, the UK lags behind the rest of the world in its understanding of autonomous vehicles, according to the report. Although 60% of those questioned said they had a ‘high level of understanding’ of the benefits and social implications of autonomous vehicles, this figure was relatively low compared to respondents in Singapore (74%) and China (68%). 

According to the authors, the UK’s history of car ownership may have had an impact on people’s attitudes towards autonomous vehicles. Nearly half of those questioned (48%) who said they didn’t fully support autonomous vehicles also said they enjoyed driving and would not want a computer doing the job for them.

Britons were also less able to imagine a fundamentally different future for UK transport, with only one in three (36%) believing that UK roads would have a fully functioning autonomous vehicle network in place within twenty years. 

Deborah Newberry, Head of Corporate and Public Affairs at Kennedys, said that alongside the potential benefits offered by autonomous vehicles, it was important to acknowledge the range of emerging risks for business and users.  

“In an environment where vehicles are increasingly driven by data and technology, rather than by people, there needs to be a clear call-to-action on governments across the world to create modern legal frameworks that provide appropriate protocols on the behaviours of vehicle technology.

“Those laws also need to address the storage, usage and sharing of the masses of data which will be collected by the next generation of autonomous vehicles,” added Newberry. “This will require a collaborative approach across government, motor manufacturers, software developers, insurers, law enforcement agencies and consumer groups.”

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