More than half of drivers think they can buy a self-driving car today

Research suggests that self-driving hype has left motorists confused about the capabilities of modern driving aids...

Thatcham autonomous driving

Thatcham Research’s Trust in Automation survey has revealed that 52% of 2000 UK drivers polled believe they can buy a fully autonomous car today, when in fact ‘self-driving capability’ will not reach consumers until at least 2025.

This study also polled a further 2000 motorists from the United States and revealed that the misconception is even more prevalent there, with 72% of survey respondents believing that it is possible to buy a car that features such technology.

The most advanced systems currently available in the UK are capable of providing distance and steering assistance on the motorway, although a couple have additional capabilities; the Mercedes EQE, for instance, can navigate its way to the hard shoulder if its driver becomes unresponsive.

However, even the best of these devices, which are known as Assisted Driving Systems, still require full driver attention and support for safe operation on the road.

Thatcham autonomous driving

The survey also asked motorists whether they recognise any benefits of the emerging automated driving technology, and 73% of respondents said they do see at least some benefit from it. Twenty-one percent believed it would bring about an improvement in safety because human error would be removed from driving; a further 14% said it had the potential to improve mobility for the elderly and disabled, and 8% predicted a reduction in pollution caused by improvements in traffic flow.

Chief Strategic Research Officer at Thatcham Research, Matthew Avery, observes that "Drivers are beginning to recognise that automation can deliver significant benefits to society in terms of safety, mobility and sustainability.”

However, he warns that “the industry must be cautious with the language employed to sell automation and drivers must be made aware of the limitations of systems. This is vital not only during the early stages of adoption but also as we move towards fuller levels of automation.”

Thatcham autonomous driving

Avery believes that making automated vehicles safer “is dependent on driver education”. He stresses the importance of setting “realistic consumer expectations” ahead of the release of more advanced systems in years to come, so that drivers know what’s available to them, and how to make advantage of it safely.

The survey also revealed that, although many people recognise the benefits of autonomous driving systems, a significant proportion are cautious about adopting such systems.

It revealed that 44% of respondents wanted to see self-driving systems prove their efficacy before they would use the systems, and only 4% said they would buy a car with self-driving capability as soon as possible.

A greater proportion, 16%, were happy with the idea of buying a car with self-driving technology, but only if it was fitted to a car they would have bought anyway, and 24% asserted that they would completely avoid purchasing a car with self-driving capability. These responses suggest that, without proper communication, interest in self-driving systems may be slow to build as the technology develops.

This scepticism leads Avery to recommend that “industry stakeholders come together to instil trust in automation,” which he believes will be achieved through “ensuring motorists have a firm grasp of their legal obligations and the performance limitations of systems.”

Thatcham autonomous driving

The task of educating UK motorists about their responsibilities goes hand in hand with keeping the public up to date on the state of self-driving generally, as well as the options available to them, and work is already being done to prevent the spread of dangerous misinformation.

In November 2021, a list of guiding principles for automated vehicle marketing was published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The list was developed in partnership with the AV-DRiVE Group, a collaboration of several key UK motoring institutions, including the Department for Transport and the DVLA.

These principles aim to ensure that motorists are not misled when it comes to what their car can do. However, it is clear that more work needs to be done in order to keep motorists safe.

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