Artificial Intelligence

Report reveals public support for driverless cars in UK

27th February 2017
Alice Matthews

A landmark study revealing broad public support for driverless vehicles on Britain’s roads has been published by Westbourne Communications. Following a highly competitive bid process, the People in Autonomous Vehicles in Urban Environments (PAVE) consortium secured joint funding by government and industry. The competition was delivered by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.

The project was tasked to explore stakeholder and the public's perceptions of driverless cars. In parallel, the project conducted a feasibility exercise looking at whether the 10km of roads on the 200 acres Culham Science Centre campus in Oxfordshire would be a good place to study how attitudes to driverless cars change as the experience of them grows. Work commenced in March 2016 – with field work finishing in November 2016.

Members of PAVE include the UK Autonomic Energy Authority’s Culham-based RACE business unit, Westbourne Communications, Siemens, Amey and Oxbotica, the award-winning Oxford-based technology company that is challenging Silicon Valley tech giants.

As part of the study, which was launched at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ (SMMT) CAV Forum, Westbourne surveyed 500 stakeholders and members of the public, revealing that almost two-thirds of respondents (63%) felt positive towards the concept of driverless cars on Britain’s roads, with 59% agreeing that the roads would be safer with driverless car technologies.

Respondents thought the most popular benefit of this technology (71% positive) is that it could allow greater freedom for older or disabled people and nearly 70% of people polled were of the view that driverless cars have the potential to deliver economic benefits.

The study, however, also revealed concerns about security, standards and whether any technology could be truly prepared for all eventualities. Around half of those people polled were concerned about hacking or misuse, and a quarter were concerned that driverless cars could potentially leave people stranded if the technology failed.

Most respondents agreed that there would be significant environmental benefits, such as easing congestion on roads, less wear and tear and lower fuel consumption.

There was broad support for the idea of that testing driverless cars under realistic conditions is essential to gain public support and 69% agreed that the UK should strive to lead the way in driverless car technology. On the whole, respondents were supportive of Culham Science Centre’s role in developing driverless car technologies, with the Centre seen as a suitable location for testing driverless cars.

The Westbourne component of the project was run by its Robotics and Autonomous Systems Unit, which specialises in communications related to next generation technologies such as driverless cars and drones. The team is headed-up by Managing Director, James Garland, alongside Maurice Cousins, Senior Account Director in the Advocacy practice.

Commenting on the appointment James Garland, Co-Managing Director of Westbourne, which carried-out public opinion research aspect of the project, said: “Westbourne has a long and proud history of working with disruptive technologies in the transport and new technology sectors. We are really proud of this piece of work, where we supplemented traditional polling with deliberative engagement in order to get a real understanding of what the public thinks and how policymakers should respond going forward.”

Commenting on the study Dr Rob Buckingham, Director of RACE, said: “Driverless vehicles are the future and the public clearly believes there are enormous transformative benefits that can be realised from the technology. But what our study also reveals is that clearly more work will be needed to be done by stakeholders and industry so that the public can be brought along with this fast-evolving technology. Culham Science Centre has an important role to play in understanding how CAV technology can be commercially deployed in the future.”

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