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UK public not revved up by driverless vehicles

People in Britain are not convinced of the benefits of driverless technology, according to a poll of 2,038 members of the public carried out for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The ICM poll found 56 per cent of respondents reluctant to relinquish the controls of their car, compared to just 20 per cent of those who would.

The findings follow announcements from companies including Google, Ford, Mercedes Benz, Audi and Volvo that they are investing in developing driverless cars.

The poll showed women were more wary of the new technology, with 61 per cent saying they wouldn’t use a driverless car, compared to 50 per cent of men. Thirteen per cent of 55 to 64-year-olds backed driverless cars, compared to 31 per cent of people aged 25 to 34.

In a statement, Philippa Oldham, head of Transport at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: ‘Autonomous vehicles would be a huge leap forward.  Much of the autonomous technology - such as automatic parking - is already making today’s cars safer, greener and more efficient. We certainly welcome any investment made which may help to improve and develop vehicles.

‘However, these results show that although the technology is developing quite rapidly, the biggest hurdles these companies face will be convincing people to hand over control of their vehicles to a computer.’

In December 2013’s National Infrastructure Plan the government proposed making the UK a world-leading centre for the development and testing of driverless cars, creating a £10m prize fund for a town or city to develop as a testing ground for driverless cars

Driverless cars use techniques such as radar, GPS, and computer vision to sense their surroundings and control the vehicles navigation path. Google claims that its prototype vehicle has achieved more than 300,000 autonomous-driving miles.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Even after exhaustive testing the East London DLR still needed a 'driver' to calm nervous passengers even though it was restricted to rail tracks with countless sensors and fail-safe devices to prevent rear ending and trundled along at about 20mph to avoid de-railing. I know not if this is still the case as I stopped working there many years ago.
    The principle still holds though....What hope is there for cars that are effectively free to go where they like within loose limits imposed by a road system but with no human intervention and possibly subject to outside interference with their systems. I doubt in my lifetime and I suspect not my sons either.

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  • DLR trains don't have drivers, but occasionally a member of staff gets on, opens up the panel where the driver would sit if there was one, and presses a few buttons. Why this happens is one of the great London mysteries.

  • I don't see the point in "driverless vehicles" as surely they are nothing more than another transit system i.e. buses, trains, etc?

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  • I'm constantly gobsmacked that trains still have drivers. I blame unions for this backward situation. Our local trains are every half hour. Without drivers they could be split into three and run every ten minutes.
    Cars that drive themselves, can't wait.

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  • The point of this is that governments want it so there is no breaking the speed limit, no accidents etc.
    But do you need to take a driving test to be in one of these cars?

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  • We're getting there by stealth anyway. First ABS, then ESP, now in all cars. Have you tried radar controlled cruise, I love it! Automated braking, lane holding steering etc. are also spreading.

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  • Dear Ed.
    With respect, I dispute your response. I used the DLR after it's completion and certainly in the early months/years each train had a 'driver'.

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  • That may have been the case when the service started, but it certainly hasn't been for at least ten years.

  • And this sort of thing can't be allowed to happen...

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  • I agree with Philippa Oldham that the biggest hurdle may be the reluctance of drivers. A big part of this reluctance may be because it has not yet been demonstrated that the technology can deal with the more demanding driving conditions.

    Just thinking about my daily commute in the last couple of months, a driverless car would need to negotiate turning across oncoming traffic at a junction at night in a heavy hailstorm, slow down or avoid large puddles that would have soaked pedestrians on the footpath, move past a van that had broken down in the middle of the road, follow a diversion, drive partially onto the footpath to allow an ambulance to move through a traffic jam and pull over when directed by a police officer conducting routine checks.

    If the driverless technology can't cope reliably with London's South Circular on a wet winter evening then it won't be adopted and shouldn't be legal. A car that can drive itself 95% of the time is no use at all. If the person needs to pay full attention at all times so that they can take over when the car can't cope, then what's the point?

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  • Nick Farrow clarifies the issue well. Add the potential for deliberate external mischief like a drunk stepping immediately in front of a car travelling at any current speed limit. This would overcome any autonomous braking and avoidance system, unless all traffic was limited to about 4 mph. We will clearly need a man with a red flag walking in front of every vehicle to ensure the autonomous control system does not cause an accident by system failure?

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  • We already fly passenger aircraft automatically and well on the way to pilotless operations - why shouldn't our regular car drive itself too? So long as we can take over if we want to it should cut a great deal of stress out of the daily commute.

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