FSEG publish a new paper: Perceptions of autonomous vehicles: relationships with road users, risk, gender and age.

By 18th October 2017News

This paper is part of the research being undertaken by FSEG of the University of Greenwich as part of the UK GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) project. The GATEway project, an £8 million project funded by Innovate UK and Industry, is a technology driven project that aims to demonstrate the safe and efficient integration of sophisticated automated transport systems into complex real world smart city environments. The project is based in the Royal Borough of Greenwich in London.

The study described in this paper surveyed public perceptions of autonomous cars (AC), focusing particularly on the perceived risk of collision and injury for those travelling in them and those on foot, and on general attitudes towards these cars reflecting acceptance or objection to them being used on public roads.

The 20th century witnessed a revolution in passenger transport with the mass production of affordable cars allowing people to drive themselves freely from one location to another. However, the 21st century has witnessed a new revolution in road transport with the development of fully automated cars, which – by removing the need for a driver – are expected to reduce the number of collisions resulting from human driving error and improve road safety.

While some forms of autonomous vehicles (AV) have been in common usage in cities for a number of years, such as driverless trains and airport shuttles, these modes of transport run along enclosed routes and are therefore limited in terms of their movements and interactions with vehicles or people other than passengers.

In contrast, AC will be moving amongst other road users, thus their interactions with people will be, and may be perceived to be, more complex. Some surveys have been conducted in recent years on the public’s perception of AC, but have typically focused on people as passengers of such vehicles. Perceptions from an external point of view, e.g. as pedestrians in an area with AC, have received little attention to date. Likewise, there has been little attempt to compare perceptions of AC with perceptions of other, existing vehicles, including AV. The survey considers a comparison between AC and:

  • Conventional cars
  • Motor bikes
  • Bicycles
  • Conventional passenger trains
  • Autonomous passenger trains

This paper reports findings of a survey with participants resident in the UK investigating perceptions of AC, particularly with regards to road safety and acceptance. Perceptions are compared in relation to road users (i.e. pedestrians as well as occupants of both human-operated and AV), risk (taking and perception), and participant gender and age.

The study surveyed 916 participants on their perceptions, particularly with regards to safety and acceptance of AV. As males were over-represented and females under-represented in our sample, compared to the UK population, the data was weighted using the gender proportions from the national statistics population estimates. Following this weighting, participants were characterised as follows: Sample size = 916, Gender = 49% male, 51% female; Age range = 18–85 years, M = 40.91, SD = 12.93, Mdn = 39.00; 85% with a driving licence.

Overall, results revealed:

  • AC were perceived as a “somewhat low risk“ form of transport and, while concerns existed, there was little opposition to the prospect of their use on public roads.
  • However, compared to human-operated cars, AC were perceived differently depending on the road user perspective:
    • more risky when a passenger
    • less risky when a pedestrian.
  • AC were also perceived as more risky than existing autonomous trains.
  • Gender, age and risk-taking had varied relationships with the perceived risk of different vehicle types and general attitudes towards AC. For instance, males and younger adults displayed greater acceptance. The adoption of this autonomous technology would seem societally beneficial – due to these groups’ greater propensity for taking road user risks, behaviours linked with poorer road safety. However, an initial result from the unweighted data suggested caution: participants who were more likely to take road user risks were also more likely to have a negative attitude towards AC. This raises the question that, if given the choice, might risk-takers reject using these vehicles? However, when the data was weighted to enhance the sample’s representativeness of the UK population, this result was no longer statistically significant. Thus, further research is necessary to determine whether AC major selling point – safer driving – might prove to reduce their appeal to the very individuals whose use of them would most benefit other road users.
  • As members of the public will likely be both types of road user, and the safety of both is imperative, this raises significant questions over the design and promotion of AC: companies will have to find ways to appeal to the former road user group while continuing to appeal to the latter to achieve a satisfactory integration of these vehicles in urban environments.
  • When looking at the attitudes, either from the sample overall or across variables such as Gender and Driver Status, one thing was clear: participants who opposed AC were very much in the minority; 10% or less had a negative or conditionally negative attitude. Around four to five times more participants expressed acceptance (positive or conditionally positive attitude) of AC. This could be taken as an endorsement for autonomous cars. However, there was a sizeable number of participants (46% of the overall sample and between approximately two-fifths and a half of subgroups) yet to be convinced.
  • Despite the low negativity evident, concerns were expressed, encompassing more than just road safety-related issues. Concerns related to cybercrime, e.g. computer viruses and hacking, were also frequently expressed, underlining that this is not simply a challenge of improving transportation safety but improving systems more widely.
  • So these findings indicate that many people are currently receptive to the concept of AC but there is still work to be done. Moreover, the detection of significant relationships between perceived risk ratings or attitudes and various factors, including road user populations, gender and age, emphasise that perceptions towards AC are multi-faceted.

All comments welcome.

You can download the paper for free using the following link until November 29, 2017: https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1VscN3IVV9Z7Ht

The full citation for the paper is:

Hulse, L. M, Xie H., and Galea, E.R., Perceptions of autonomous vehicles: Relationships with road users, risk, gender and age, Safety Science, Volume 102, February 2018, Pages 1-18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2017.10.001

You can find out more of FSEG’s role in the project from our website at: http://fseg.gre.ac.uk/fire/gateway.html


This work was supported by Innovate UK, the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, and industry as part of GATEway – Greenwich Automated Transport Environment (project number 102200), a project comprising the following partners: Commonplace, Digital Greenwich, Fusion Processing, GOBOTiX, Heathrow Enterprises, Royal Borough of Greenwich, Royal College of Art, RSA, Shell, Telefonica, TRL, University of Greenwich and Westfield Sportscars.

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