UK public open-minded about self-driving vehicles, finds new survey

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Fully driverless cars may not yet be widely available, but people living in the UK are already familiar with the concept, and are open-minded about self-driving car technology, according to a new survey.

The poll found that more than three-quarters of those questioned had heard of driverless vehicles. This compared favourably with people’s awareness of commercially available driver assistance technologies, such as adaptive cruise control (familiar to 40% of those polled), automated emergency braking (38%) and lane-keeping systems (34%).

For a technology that is not yet commercially available, it is striking that so many people have already heard about self-driving vehicles.
— Pat Langdon, the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre

The survey was carried out by the University of Cambridge for the UK Autodrive programme, one of three main driverless projects currently underway in the UK.

The research found that although general awareness levels are high, people have not developed particularly hard-line attitudes towards self-driving vehicles, with respondents ‘remarkably’ open to their arrival.

Just over a third of those surveyed (35%) said that they would use a fully driverless vehicle once available, while only 15% of respondents said they were strongly opposed to the idea.



However, participants aren’t yet ready to give up complete control of their cars, with 85% keen to retain some say over a self-driving vehicle’s choice of route, and three-quarters (74%) wanting to retain the option of driving manually.

“For a technology that is not yet commercially available, it is striking that so many people have already heard about self-driving vehicles,” said Pat Langdon, Principal Research Associate at the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre.

“There is obviously still plenty to be done in terms of educating the public – particularly when it comes to the potential benefits this technology could bring – but there is already lots of positivity in these initial findings.”

What will people do in driverless cars?

While human drivers necessarily spend much of their driving time focused on the road ahead, more than half of those surveyed (55%) said that they plan to enjoy looking at the scenery while being driven in a self-driving vehicle.

Drivers also expect to take advantage of the additional leisure time offered by self-driving vehicles to check emails (35%), make phone calls (35%) and eat or drink on the move (35%).

Respondents had differing views about when they would be most likely to use a self-driving vehicle. Almost a quarter (23%) said that they would use one for shopping trips, while 22% expect to use one for commuting.

Another 22% plan to use a self-driving vehicle for social/leisure travel, while 15% see the technology as their saviour after a night out, allowing them to travel after drinking alcohol.

With early self-driving vehicles likely to operate as an on-demand form of transport, respondents were asked how they would like to summon such a vehicle.

Almost half of those questioned (45%) said they would like to use a smartphone app, while around a quarter (27%) expect to call one up from home or catch one at a bus stop (23%).

The survey results give some fascinating insights into what the UK public currently think about self-driving vehicles
— UK Autodrive Project Director Tim Armitage

Asked who might benefit most from self-driving vehicles, more than three-quarters of those surveyed (80%) suggested those with impairments or disabilities.

A third of respondents (36%) also said they would recommend self-driving vehicles to people of a similar age and lifestyle, with 42% recommending them for parents or older friends and family members.

However, despite widespread awareness of driverless vehicles, very few of those surveyed are ready to entrust their children to one for the school run. Just one in five respondents (19%) plan to do so at this stage, with the majority (59%) saying they are opposed to the idea.

“The survey results give some fascinating insights into what the UK public currently think about self-driving vehicles, and we will continue to dig deeper into this as the UK Autodrive project continues,” said UK Autodrive Project Director Tim Armitage.

The UK Autodrive programme is scheduled to end in October 2018, and the consortium plans to run a second nationwide survey towards the end of the project to see if there have been any material changes in public attitudes towards self-driving vehicles.