Three-quarters of UK motorists fear driverless cars will struggle with road etiquette

Although driverless cars promise a huge number of benefits for road users, their introduction won't be without its challenges.

And a new survey has identified one slightly unlikely problem: the possible disappearance of good manners on the road, as driverless cars struggle to interact with other motorists.

According to the research, carried out by price comparison website, 75% of motorists believe that autonomous cars could misinterpret the informal driving etiquette that forms an unwritten code on Britain's roads.

Respondents identified several areas of etiquette that driverless cars may struggle to understand, including flashing your headlights to say thank you (51%), allowing fellow drivers out of side streets (32%) and showing consideration for pedestrians (28%).

Britain's motorists are also concerned about the impact of human drivers and driverless cars operating together, with 70% believing that this will lead to accidents and delays. 

However, Brits also hope that the arrival of driverless cars will help to reduce certain driving habits. Respondents identified tailgating as the behaviour they would most like to see disappear from the roads (59%), followed by cutting up other drivers (42%) and drivers failing to indicate before making a turn or changing lanes (41%).

Despite the safety improvements promised by driverless cars, four out of ten respondents believe that car insurance premiums will rise as driverless vehicles take to the UK's roads.

The UK Government is currently undertaking a consultation aimed at modernising the Highway Code, to reflect modern driving habits. The survey found that, as automatic parking technology grows in popularity, 42% of Brits think it's time to update the requirement that a driver must always have both hands on the steering wheel.

Similarly, as sat-nav technology becomes more widespread, a third of drivers also think that existing rules covering distractions such as map-reading and playing loud music while driving should be updated.

"The unwritten rules of the road are all part of the polite British driving experience but could be a huge blind spot for autonomous vehicles," said Rod Jones, insurance expert at

"Flashing your lights to let someone out of a junction may seem obvious, but these courteous gestures can vary from situation to situation and add the human touch to motoring.

"The Highway Code was created to promote safer driving, but over the years we have developed our own human driving code. It is clear that many drivers don’t expect driverless cars to understand our driving habits, which could, certainly to begin with, make it difficult for humans and robots to drive side by side.

"For British drivers to feel safe on the roads, they need to be confident about how a driverless car will react in any given situation. Clarifying the rules in the Highway Code is an important step towards this."

Survey findings

Top five courteous habits driverless cars could misunderstand

  1. Flashing your headlights – meaning thank you, you’re welcome or go ahead (51%)
  2. Moving aside for emergency services (35%)
  3. Letting other drivers out of side streets in busy traffic (32%)
  4. Being considerate to pedestrians on the pavement (28%)
  5. Using the horn to alert a fellow driver to a situation up ahead (26%)

Top five annoying habits driverless cars could eradicate

  1. Tailgating (59%)
  2. Cutting up other drivers (42%)
  3. Not indicating before making a turn or changing lanes (41%)
  4. Speeding (38%)
  5. Queue jumping (20%)

The research was carried out in August 2016 on behalf of among 2,074 drivers in the UK.