The rise of Autonomous Vehicles-Part Two

As we discussed in the first part of our series on the rise of Autonomous Vehicles (AV), it is increasingly clear that driverless cars are going to play an important role in the future of the automotive industry, offering a range of benefits, most notably increased safety on our roads. Drawing on research recently commissioned by Direct Line Group, we explored where we are today, and looked at some of the challenges still facing technology and infrastructure in the development and introduction of AVs.

However, one of the most significant hurdles to the success of AVs may not be down to the technology or the ability of our roads to handle it, but the issue of current public perception. Regardless of the many benefits promised by AVs, it is fair to say that not everyone considers their introduction to be a good thing. Indeed, we know from our own research here at Direct Line Group that public opinion on AVs runs the gamut from enthusiastic and excited about the idea of driverless cars to scepticism and deep concern about the prospect.

So why might so many people be unsure about the role of AVs?

Firstly, we must remember that people like to be in control. It is culturally uncomfortable for people to place their trust in car technology, with research showing that 67 per cent of people would prefer to be in full control of their vehicle most of the time. If there is even a tiny chance the technology could get it wrong, people are disinclined to trust it – even though, in reality, human error poses a greater risk.

Secondly, people think they are good drivers, a perception which renders safety an issue of less importance than you would expect. The same research showed that only 13 per cent of people think they are a driver with room for improvement, and just 17 per cent think that driverless cars would be safer. This is an important statistic. If safety is being mooted as the primary benefit of AVs, and yet more than 85 per cent of drivers think there is no room for improvement in their driving, then people may not understand quite what driverless technology could actually offer them.

And finally, let’s not forget that the majority of people actually enjoy driving - only one in four find it a chore, and may therefore be reluctant to hand the activity over to technology.

Our latest research, the result of qualitative interviews with 10 experts with a perspective on AVs and driverless technology, further highlighted that there exists a deep-seated concern about driverless technology, and some of the experts consulted attributed this to the absence of a clear public-facing narrative. And it’s true that, whilst the industry is broadly viewed positively and is seen to do great work in technological innovation, there is little visibility of industry leaders in the public debate. This void in the public narrative is being filled by negative news about safety risks, and of zero tolerance for any accidents or mistakes.

With AVs increasingly an inevitability on our roads, clearly something needs to be done to tackle this issue.

We believe that the motor industry needs to do three things: first, it should take charge of and contextualise safety and risk messaging; then it needs to find ways to bring AVs closer to and more tangible for the public; and finally, it should work to better understand what will motivate the public to try driverless technology. The media also has an important role to play as a conduit between the industry and the public.

And then there is the role of insurers. What can we be doing to fill the narrative void and help to lead this conversation? We feel that the insurance industry has a key role to play, as a trusted, credible voice, especially when it comes to the issue of risk. Insurers need to use their expertise to assess the risk of AVs and then help to educate the public on this topic and help them to navigate the rapidly evolving world of car technology

In areas like increased safety, improved mobility and reducing pollution, AVs have the potential to bring about real, worthwhile changes in our communities. If we are to see these benefits realised, we need to change the public narrative and tell a more positive story. And for this to happen, it’s vital that everyone involved in the AV industry opens itself up, and demonstrates the benefits of automation.

In our final piece in this series, we will look in more detail at the role that the insurance industry has to play, and the specific challenges it faces in the introduction of AVs.

Did you know that Direct Line Group is sponsoring Driverless:Who is in control? A new exhibition at the Science Museum.

To find out more about this click here