‘Majority’ of UK public would not feel safe in self-driving cars

A new poll has found that more than half of UK citizens (57%) say they would not feel safe riding in a self-driving car.

“Autonomous cars must not only 'be' safe, but also be perceived as safe by the public.”

Dr Alvin Wilby, Thales UK

Despite the UK government’s commitment to driverless vehicles, nearly a quarter (23%) of those questioned by technology company Thales said that they feel ‘apprehensive’ about the idea of self-driving cars being on the UK’s roads in the next three years. A fifth of respondents (20%) admitted to feeling downright fearful about the prospect. Only 12% of those questioned said that they felt either excited or optimistic about the idea.

“For the government’s 2021 vision to become a reality, autonomous cars must not only ‘be’ safe, but also be perceived as safe by the public,” said Dr Alvin Wilby, VP of Research, Innovation and Technology at Thales UK.

The company’s research found that just 16% of the UK public would feel safe riding in a self-driving car. The biggest concerns expressed by respondents were the safety of pedestrians (cited by 56% of those questioned), the safety of the passengers (51%), a rise in potentially fatal accidents (49%), connectivity failures (35%) and cyber-attacks / personal data hacks (29%).

Thales, which has long-standing experience in flight safety, also found that nearly two-thirds of those questioned (65%) feel safe when flying on board an aeroplane, where pilots have typically undergone rigorous testing and training.

“By using synthetic environment technologies – currently used for full flight simulators in aerospace and vehicle simulators – we are able to subject autonomous driving systems to a huge numbers of scenarios, to gain confidence in their safety,” said Wilby.

“We, essentially, subject AVs to a much more rigorous "driving test" than we do with human drivers.”

Professor Paul Jennings, lead for Intelligent Vehicle research at WMG, University of Warwick said: “There is potentially a lot that can be learned from other sectors when it comes to certifying the safety of AVs.

“For example, by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to run simulations of real-life scenarios, we might learn more quickly how driverless cars will operate across the UK’s challenging urban and rural road networks, and to ensure that they safely interact with other road users.”