Driverless-only future won’t happen, say third of UK adults

Nearly a third of UK adults think the country will never switch to having only driverless cars on the roads, while 60% say they would always prefer to drive themselves, rather than use a self-driving vehicle, according to a new poll.

The survey from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which follows a similar poll by the body in 2017, found that public comfort levels with driverless technology have not changed, with the same proportion of respondents (two-thirds) uncomfortable with the idea of travelling in an autonomous car.

In addition, more people in this year’s poll (32%) would like driverless vehicles to be restricted to driving at speeds below 30mph, up from 27% in 2017.

“Consumer confidence is essential for autonomous technology to succeed, but if anything, that confidence has waned in the last two years,” said Dr Colin Brown, Chief Executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

“During that time, there have been very few controlled trials on our roads to allow people to experience the vehicles at first hand. As engineers, we remain convinced of the need to explore the potential advantages the technology offers.”

In a report on the survey, “Public Perceptions: Driverless Cars”, the Institution calls for more trials with autonomous vehicles sharing the roads, to allow people to see the cars in action and give them a chance to travel in one.

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“The Government has plans for trials of self-driving cars on roads in Edinburgh and London by 2021, but we would like to see more taking place in other locations in the UK,” said Dr Brown.

As well as calling for more trials with autonomous vehicles sharing the roads, the report recommends that the UK government accelerates the development of the regulatory framework for the testing and use of autonomous cars, insurance liability, tax and a revamped Highway Code to provide continued clarity for road users.

The Institute also suggests that the industry and government continue to collect data to assess whether driverless technology can deliver its promised safety, pollution and cost benefits. It believes this data could also be used to influence a shift from individual driver insurance to vehicle-based insurance.