Autonomous vehicles are coming to public roads, slowly but surely

Driverless cars make 70 per cent of Britons nervous

70 per cent of Britons reported that they would not feel confident being a passenger in the first wave of driverless cars, according to a survey by HPL Motors.

The research conducted by used car supermarket HPL Motors revealed the levels of wariness and scepticism surrounding driverless cars. 70 per cent of people stated they would not feel confident being a passenger in the first driverless cars. There was also a division of the sexes regarding the perception and trust of autonomous vehicles, with 38 per cent of men positive about the prospect, compared to only 20 per cent of women.

The research comes shortly after a well-publicised collision between a Google self-driving car and a bus in the city of Mountain View, USA. There have been a number of minor incidents in the past, although this was the first crash where the car itself caused the collision. Previous incidents have seen the Google car struck by vehicles under human control.

People have been debating the safety of autonomous vehicles on public roads and in real-life situations. Trials are already underway in many countries – notably Google’s driverless project - with autonomous vehicles already operating on public roads in some - such as the driverless shuttle bus in Holland – and with firm plans to introduce them in others, e.g. the driverless pods planned for Greenwich, London, in summer 2016.

According to research conducted by the TUC in November 2015, the number of people spending more than two hours commuting to and from work in the UK has increased by 72 per cent in the last 10 years to over three million. Driverless cars could reclaim much of this time spent while commuting.

Matt Sayward, marketing manager at HPL Motors, cited this as one of the big advantages of autonomous vehicles: “If you can get in your car and have it drive itself, it frees you up to do other things; read the news, finish off a presentation on your laptop before a morning meeting, play a game - even take a nap!”

Matthew North, editor of Driverless Weekly, added: “Driverless cars could help to do away with traffic jams altogether. Academic research has shown that many jams are actually caused by isolated drivers pushing their brakes too quickly, which creates a chain effect, generating a traffic jam 100 or so cars back. Intelligent autonomous cars would always find the most efficient and effective way to drive and there would be no irrational stops and starts - eliminating these soul-destroying traffic jams.”

The safety aspect of autonomous vehicles should also be reassuring to passengers. A 2015 report conducted by the independent safety bodies for Europe (Euro NCAP) and Australasia (ANCAP) found that even the lowest levels of vehicle autonomy can improve safety. The report found that low-speed autonomous emergency braking technology can lead to a 38 per cent reduction in real-world rear-end crashes. As the driverless technology develops and further testing is done, fully autonomous cars have the possibility to offer comprehensive safety benefits. As one major car manufacturer example, Ford announced a comprehensive test programme for its autonomous cars in a simulated city in November 2015.

“People raise their eyebrows when you say driverless cars will be on our roads by 2020. But the truth is that autonomous vehicles are already on our road. In the industry, we distinguish different levels of automation from level 1, where some vehicular controls are automated, to level 4, where a vehicle can truly drive itself without any human interaction. We are already seeing cars on our roads at the level 2 and 3 stages,” North said.

Sayward added: “I don’t think the transition to driverless will be as binary as going from human-controlled to fully-automated. We will see over the next 10 years responsibilities handed off one at a time to the car, which will put people more at ease with technology in the car. The driverless car will arrive in instalments, not a lump sum.”

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