Survey finds UK public still “open minded” about self-driving vehicles

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The Cambridge University survey was completed by 2,850 UK residents
The Cambridge University survey was completed by 2,850 UK residents

People living in the UK are highly familiar with the concept of “driverless cars”, but have not yet formed hardened opinions about the technology, according to a nationwide survey carried out on behalf of the UK Autodrive programme.

Conducted by researchers at Cambridge University’s Engineering Department and the Department of Psychology, the online survey was completed by 2,850 UK residents.

It found that more than three quarters (76%) of those surveyed had heard of driverless vehicles, comparing favourably to driver assistance technologies that are already commercially available, such as adaptive cruise control (familiar to 40% of those surveyed), automated emergency braking (38%) and lane-keeping systems (34%).


While general levels of awareness are high, it appears however that the technology has not yet been around long enough for hard-line attitudes to set in. The responses revealed a remarkably open mind to the arrival of self-driving vehicles, with 35% of those surveyed saying they would use a fully self-driving vehicle (without a driver or steering wheel) once one was available to them. Only 15% of the respondents expressed strong opposition to the idea.

  • Head to our Downloads section for an Executive Summary and Infographic of the survey’s main findings

Nevertheless, some reticence was expressed when it came to the ability of new technology to replace human involvement completely. In response to questions about what levels of control they would like to retain, 85% expressed a desire to retain some control over the choice of route, and 74% wanted to retain an option to drive manually.

The 49-question survey also asked people what they would do while riding in a self-driving vehicle, with more than half (55%) saying they would look out at the scenery. Checking emails (37%), making phone calls (35%) and eating or drinking (also 35%) were among the other popular choices.

Useful for shopping

There was also a wide range of views expressed in terms of when people would want to use a self-driving vehicle, with 23% of respondents saying that they would most use one for shopping excursions, followed by commuting (22%), social/leisure travel (22%), and a sizeable 15% who would be mainly interested in using self-driving vehicles after drinking alcohol.

When asked how they would like to summon a self-driving vehicle if using one as a form of public transport, 45% of respondents said they would like to use a smartphone app, though calling one up from home (27%) or catching one at a bus stop (23%) were also popular options.

A large majority (80%) of those surveyed felt that self-driving vehicles would assist people with impairments or disabilities, but the results were far more varied when it came to such vehicles being used by other members of the public.

School run scepticism

Just over a third (36%) said they would recommend self-driving vehicles to people of a similar age and lifestyle to themselves, while 42% said they would recommend them for their parents or older loved ones. When asked if they would send their children to school in a self-driving vehicle, however, only 19% of those who responded said they would do so, with 59% either opposed or strongly opposed to the idea.

“The survey results give some fascinating insights into what the UK public currently think about self-driving vehicles, and we will continue to dig deeper into this as the UK Autodrive project continues,” said UK Autodrive Project Director Tim Armitage.

“For a technology that is not yet commercially available, it is striking that so many people have already heard about self-driving vehicles,” added Pat Langdon, Principal Research Associate at the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre. “There is obviously still plenty to be done in terms of educating the public – particularly when it comes to the potential benefits this technology could bring ­– but there is already lots of positivity in these initial findings.”

Following on from the first wave of public attitudes research, UK Autodrive will now stage a series of qualitative workshops in locations across the UK to further explore the reasons behind some of the opinions expressed and to investigate ways in which attitudes towards self-driving vehicle technology might be further improved in the future.

A second nationwide survey will also be conducted towards the end of the UK Autodrive project to measure any changes in attitude that may have occurred.

UK Autodrive public attitudes survey, key findings:

Opinions still wide-ranging:

Statement: When self-driving vehicles (without a driver or steering wheel) become available, I would use them…

10% Strongly agree

26% Agree

31% Neutral

18% Disagree

15% Strongly disagree

High public awareness of “driverless cars” concept:

Question: “Which of these technologies have you heard of?”

76% Park assist

76% Driverless car

40% Adaptive cruise control

38% Autonomous emergency braking

37% Forward collision warning

11% Cooperative adaptive cruise control

Looking out the window the most popular “activity”:

Question: “What activities would you like to do while travelling in a self-driving vehicle?” (multiple answers possible)

55% Look at the scenery

37% Check emails

35% Make phone calls

35% Eat or drink

33% Socialise/chat

31% Read book/other printed material

24% Do nothing

20% Watch a movie

5%   Other

Disabled seen as main beneficiaries:

Question: “Who would you recommend to use self-driving vehicles?”

80% Disabled/impaired

42% My parents/older loved ones

36% People my own age/lifestyle

19% My children (school run)

‘Appy travellers:

Question: “If I were using a self-driving vehicle as a form of public transport service, I would most likely…”

45% Call it to my location using a smartphone app

27% Calling it from my home

23% Catch it at a bus stop

5%   Board at a park and ride site

Where to go, what to do?:

Question: When would you use a self-driving vehicle?

23% To go shopping

22% For social and leisure activities

22% To get to work

21% To visit a friend or relative

15% When I am drinking alcohol

10% For official business