Thatcham Study Reveals Attitudes to Driverless Cars

A survey of under 2000 people is usually pretty useless, as small differences in answers can lead to exaggerated percentages and skewed conclusions. That’s why politicians love to carry out surveys of 2K or less, it often suits their agenda. But hats off to Thatcham who have surveyed 4000 people for this one, which looks at the tricky question of self driving vehicle safety. Here’s the word;

Thatcham Research is today revealing further insights from its Trust in Automation study – which polled 2,000 motorists in the US and 2,000 in the UK – and found a significant disconnect between attitudes and behaviours on either side of the Atlantic.

American drivers are more likely to a see a benefit to self-driving or autonomous technology than British drivers: 81% versus 73% respectively. However, American and British drivers were aligned in seeing accident reduction through the removal of human error (21%) as the greatest potential benefit.


It follows therefore that American drivers are more enthusiastic for the imminent introduction of cars with limited self-driving technology like Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS); 11% stated they would buy a car with self-driving capability as soon as possible versus just 4% in the UK.

Asking drivers what they would miss most about driving a manually operated car also uncovered some fascinating contrasts in driving behaviours. Although the drivers surveyed were largely in agreement about missing being in control themselves (US 62% and UK 64%), 17% of American motorists said they would miss being able to drive aggressively when they felt it was necessary versus just 6% in the UK, while 19% in the US said they would miss bending the rules of the road compared with only 9% in the UK.

IE note; Anyone who has driven long distance in the USA on Interstates will be aware of how boring it is for 90% of the time, with flat, featureless landscapes. Even suburbs and small towns in the US have much wider roads, lots of free parking and no roundabouts to negotiate. In short, the driving experience is generally less challenging than in overcrowded UK.

Matthew Avery, chief strategic research officer, Thatcham Research comments: “This is an intriguing challenge for system developers. We know that brands are designing Automated systems to follow local human driving patterns, making the car’s driving style more or less assertive as relevant.”


Although US drivers appear to be more open to Automation, they are also far more likely to be convinced that current technology can provide a fully autonomous driving experience. 72% in the US versus 52% in the UK think that it’s possible to buy a car today that can drive completely autonomously, as safely as a competent human driver would.

Avery comments: “Could this be the Autopilot effect at play? The claims made by big brands offering ‘full self-driving’ packages have clearly been taken on board by American drivers.”

When asked how they felt about taking back control from the first cars with self-driving capability like ALKS, just under half (48%) of American motorists said they were comfortable with the idea of an emergency handover request from the system. In the UK this number drops to 32%.

Digital divide: taking back control spooking older drivers

The Trust in Automation study has also identified a ‘digital divide’ appearing between younger and older UK drivers.

68% of UK drivers aged 55 or over said they would be uncomfortable at the prospect of resuming control from the system, a figure that decreases incrementally through the age groups, to just 28% of 17–24-year-olds.

Older age groups were also found to be the most sceptical of Automation in general, with 38% of the over 55s seeing no benefit to self-driving cars, compared to only 10% of 17–24-year-olds.

Avery comments, “Despite the discomfort expressed by drivers, they will have to be prepared to resume control from the system. As such it’s fundamental that self-driving systems communicate clearly with drivers and that those drivers are wholly aware of their responsibilities.

“Without that clarity of communication – from naming conventions to how the system informs motorists that the self-driving mode is engaged – the industry could miss a huge opportunity to commence our journey towards Automation on the safest possible foundations.

“Offering reassurance to more experienced drivers is key, since the first vehicles with self-driving capability are more likely to be out of the financial reach of younger age groups.”

IE Note; The survey highlights the greatest danger with autonomous vehicles, in that the majority of US drivers think they are already being manufactured. Trust has to be earned and a Tesla isn’t infallible, it can crash. Cars need to be marketed as Technology Assisted. The words “Self Driving Mode” or anything else that suggests the car is in complete control need to be banned by law. The fact that older drivers realise that technology goes wrong sometimes and people die is called life experience, it isn’t prejudice or some Luddite fear of gadgetry. There are going to be lots of lives saved by driver assistance tech in the future, but some will be lost along the way. Insurers need to stress that policyholders will always have some responsibility for their actions, in any vehicle, for decades to come.

About alastair walker 10539 Articles
20 years experience as a journalist and magazine editor. I'm your contact for press releases, events, news and commercial opportunities at Insurance-Edge.Net

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