Motorist Quirks Highlight Automated System Design Challenge

Thatcham Research has revealed further insights from its Trust in Automation study that show a significant difference between the attitudes and behaviours of US and UK drivers toward autonomous driving technology.

The study, which polled 2000 motorists in the USA and 2000 in the UK, found American drivers are more likely (81 per cent) to see a benefit to self-driving or autonomous technology than British drivers (73 per cent). However, American and British drivers were aligned in seeing accident reduction through the removal of human error (21 per cent) 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 – 11 per cent stated they would buy a car with self-driving capability as soon as possible versus four per cent in the UK,” said Thatcham Research.

Asking drivers what they would miss most about driving a manually operated car also uncovered contrasts in driving behaviours. Although the drivers surveyed largely agreed they would miss being in control (the US at 62 per cent and the UK at 64 per cent), 17 per cent of American motorists said they would miss being able to drive aggressively when they felt it was necessary versus six per cent in the UK. Nineteen per cent in the US said they would miss bending the rules of the road compared with nine per cent in the UK.

According to Matthew Avery, Chief Strategic Research Officer at Thatcham Research, the results pose 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,” he said.

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. Seventy-two per cent in the US versus 52 per cent 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.

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

When asked how they felt about taking back control from the first cars with self-driving capability like automated lane-keeping systems, just under half (48 per cent) 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 per cent.

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

Sixty-eight per cent 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 28 per cent of 17- to 24-year-olds.

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

“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,” said Avery.

“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.”