Driverless cars have been touted by many as the future of road transport, with the technology making huge leaps forward in the last few years.
As a result, transport planners must now take the capability of autonomous vehicles into account when designing highways, particularly when it comes to questions about how the cars will understand signage, navigate complex junctions and cope with unexpected road conditions.
But even if new developments are increasingly designed with AVs in mind, it seems the automotive industry still has work to do to convince many people of the merits of the technology – with the safety of these cars a key concern.
This was the finding of a recent study conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA), which revealed that even though a majority of respondents welcome the introduction of autonomous technologies, they are still wary of completely driverless vehicles.
It found three-quarters of people said they would be afraid to ride in a fully autonomous car, compared with just ten per cent who said they would actually feel safer using AV technology. Meanwhile, 54 per cent said they feel less safe at the prospect of sharing the roads with driverless cars.
How cars and infrastructure will handle the transition period where AVs are driving alongside human-controlled cars is still uncertain. For instance, it has been suggested that the level of caution currently in-built to AVs will make it easy for human drivers to ‘bully’ driverless cars.
This could occur at junctions, for example, if driverless cars are reluctant to edge their way forward and move into gaps that less risk-averse humans would have no hesitation about. Therefore, finding the right balance will be essential if the cars are to ease congestion rather than increase it.
Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry Relations, said that even as companies compete to launch the first commercially-viable fully driverless cars, people continue to fear full automation.
“US drivers may experience the driver assistance technologies in their cars today and feel they don’t work consistently enough to replace a human driver – and they’re correct,” he said. “While these technologies will continue to improve over time, it’s important that consumers understand that today’s systems require your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.