Only 44% of UK adults back driverless cars on UK roads, Kennedys survey reveals

Only 44% of UK adults support the introduction of driverless cars on UK roads, according to a survey we have commissioned that highlights the impact of driverless vehicles, including the disconnect between the public perception of the technology and its safety, and the reality.

With the government determined to put the UK at the forefront of developing autonomous vehicle technology, following last week’s announcement in the Queen’s Speech to introduce an Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, we feel the results highlight the need for government to undertake a significant public consultation and education campaign.

The survey of 1,000 people, conducted by Cicero Research, is the first major piece of research into public attitudes on autonomous technology. It found women are more sceptical than men of the technology, and – unsurprisingly – those prevented from driving due to disability or health are the one group overwhelmingly in favour.

The only other segments where more than half of those surveyed supported driverless cars were those in built-up areas and specifically in London – and even then, only marginally (51% in each group).

Safety was the main reason people opposed autonomous technology in vehicles – 61% did not trust computers and felt humans have better judgement, despite driver error currently being the main cause of road traffic accidents in the UK. Six in ten respondents were concerned about the dangers posed to other road users, such as pedestrians.

Concerns about data protection is another clear obstacle. Concerns about data collection, storage and usage ran deeply in those surveyed – with computer hacking viewed as the main threat. 61% were extremely concerned that data breaches could result in road accidents.

However, the survey showed a level of disconnect. Despite the concerns about safety, 51% of people believed driverless cars would result in fewer accidents, and 63% felt that the technology would help to reduce the number of road rage incidents.

They could also see the benefits, with the car parking itself, elderly and disabled people maintaining their independence, and making rural communities less reliant on public transport seen as positives that could come out of the technology.

Last year the government announced £391 million in funding to support a variety of innovations, including the development of connected and autonomous vehicles in a bid to place the UK at the forefront in developing driverless vehicles.

This research demonstrates how autonomous vehicle technology could affect real social transformation in extending social inclusion and independence to Britain’s elderly, disabled and rural communities.

Deborah adds: “We were pleased to see the re-introduction of proposed legislation in the Queen’s Speech – a clear signal that the government remains fully committed to ensuring the UK’s place at the forefront of the driverless cars revolution. We believe it is right to first extend existing legislation – as indicated in the Bill - rather than redesign insurance law entirely now. We hope the new government will take a similar “rolling reform” approach to the previous government and recognise the importance of keeping regulatory reform under constant review as the technology evolves.

“However, the government cannot ignore the high levels of public concern. The government will first need to build successfully a public consensus in favour of adopting such technology. As we have seen with previous innovations – such as genetically modified foods - the failure to first explain the benefits of the technology and secure public support, can have a profound impact on its long-term adoption.

“Our findings confirm that every aspect of transportation is set to undergo potentially fundamental and rapid changes. Driverless technology affects not just the vehicle but also the driver and the wider transport infrastructure relating to all modes of transport – road traffic, aviation, rail and shipping. The major public debate focussing on the benefits of driverless cars is required – public support will be essential in ensuring that the technology is quickly adopted."

We have laid out our ‘Blueprint for Successful Implementation’, which we believe the government needs to take into account to ensure the successful integration of driverless cars into society. This includes:

  • Work with all stakeholders to develop a new road infrastructure which will be required to support the roll-out of driverless cars.
  • Continuing to work in collaboration with the EU and the UN to develop common standards to ensure that new technologies are developed consistently between different motor manufacturers and between different jurisdictions.
  • Encourage and foster greater collaboration between stakeholders, to include building greater communications between motor manufacturers and motor insurers.
  • Undertake a wide-ranging public awareness campaign around the perceived benefits of new vehicle technology. The public often fail to appreciate the potential for improved road safety and a reduction in the number of accidents and road deaths.
  • The UK also needs to strongly consider the need for a broader and more inclusive process of public consultation around what type of technology is required to ensure that the voice of the end-users is heard when developing a new legal framework.
  • Consider the need for automated driver awareness and training when rolling out the next generation of autonomous vehicles.