Driverless vehicles gaining acceptance in UK but safety driver preferred, poll finds

An opinion poll of 1,000 UK adults by the British Standards Institution (BSI) found that almost three quarters (70 per cent) see benefits in connected and automated vehicles (CAVs).

But some 59 per cent said they would feel more confident as a passenger in an automated vehicle knowing an onboard safety operator could take control or intervene if necessary, with over 40 per cent saying the safety operator would make them feel more confident as a pedestrian.

Acceptance may be improving as more people become aware of the technology, which is still yet to be commercialised. A YouGov poll from last year found that more than two-thirds of drivers would be ‘uncomfortable’ with the prospect of driverless cars being allowed on British motorways in 2021.

While driverless vehicle technologies have garnered much interest from tech and automotive firms, real-life examples of the technology being used on the road from the likes of Google spin-off Waymo still include a driver who is ready to take control if necessary.

BSI, which sets national technical standards in the UK, has launched the latest in its series of standards from the CAV Standards Programme to promote safe trialling and testing on public roads.

Its poll also found that almost three-quarters of the public surveyed (70 per cent) see benefits including safety gains, with the potential for reduction in driver error and accidents rating as the top benefit.

People aged 18-24 years see the most potential benefit of the technology, compared to other age groups. However, while the public was largely positive around the benefits of CAVs, respondents indicated ‘trust in the technology’ poses the biggest barrier to acceptance; 39 per cent cited trust issues related to ethics, safety and security.

Transport minister Trudy Harrison said: “The development of self-driving vehicles in the UK has the potential to revolutionise travel, making everyday journeys safer, easier and greener.

“That’s why it’s great to see the BSI leading the way with their latest safety standard on the use of safety operators in testing and trialling, helping to build public confidence and ensure safety is absolutely paramount during trials across the country.”

Anne Hayes, director of sectors at BSI said: “Our new research has found that the successful deployment of automated vehicles in the UK depends on the public’s confidence in their own safety.

“It shows that safety operators have a critical role in both automated vehicle trials and development testing, as well as the promotion of greater trust in the new technologies. The newly published guidance covers training and supervision of safety operators and demonstrates that the UK is putting safety first while this technology develops on the road to fully automated vehicles”.

A poll of US adults taken in June showed that distrust of CAVs is still an issue for the industry, with over one-third of citizens saying they would prefer to swim with sharks than to ride in one.