Do you want a driverless car?

Posted on August 19th, 2015 by Rob Marshall

Driverless car

Three quarters of the UK population do not want driverless cars

I was surprised at OSV Ltd’s findings into the above, which leads me to ask why the UK Government is ploughing £20m of British taxpayer’s money into fast-tracking the technology, when it appears hardly to be a vote winner.

Sadly, the reasons for the negativity in responses were not given. Is the self-driving car seen as dealing the death blow to ‘the love of driving’? Is the British public worried about a potential loss of freedom that the car symbolises, or is it more about the loss of independence, when the vehicle is being controlled by something other than the driver? Is it a worry about the state wresting control over mobility? Yes. The conspiracy theorists are out there!

Predictably, in the survey, over 40% of younger drivers voiced the most interest in buying a car featuring the technology. Yet, as car companies’ new car buyer profiles show, most 18-25 year-olds cannot afford to buy a new car outright anyway. The most likely age group in the survey to afford the technology (55-64 years-olds) expressed only a 10% interest but that percentage leapt to 27% for the over 65’s, possibly as they see autonomous vehicles as a means of maintaining their mobility after they stop driving.

Female participants were less keen than men on autonomous vehicles, with 19% in total showing a preference, compared to 30% men. In total, the study found that 82% of English drivers are against autonomous driving, compared to 74% of Scottish participants.

Yet, we are used to cars taking over, particularly in emergencies. Automatic transmission, anti-lock-brakes, cruise control, autonomous braking, reversing sensors and self-parking technology all remove a degree of either effort, or control, from the driver but they all, generally, have been well-received. Self-driving cars are a logical progression, although they are far from being the next step.

While the main purpose of the self-driving car is to wrest control from the error-prone human, mainly for safety benefits, I am worried that this goal could be ruined by the apparent race between not only politicians but also technology/motor manufacturing businesses, many of which are being incentivised by government, to rush products to market.

We can hope that the potential positive safety credentials of self-driving cars are not prejudiced, by a rash of undeveloped prototypes that have the potential to cause considerable harm and damage. Any incidents involving self-driving cars are likely to be reported widely and the resultant headlines will do little to turn around apparent public scepticism that OSV’s survey highlights.