Only 27% of UK residents believe driverless cars will lead to fewer accidents on the roads, despite 90% of accidents being caused by human error, research by AXA has revealed

When asked about other benefits driverless cars could potentially provide, a mere third of the 2,000 respondents said they would be better for the environment, while just a quarter said they would improve safety for pedestrians. The research comes just weeks after a Euro NCAP and Thatcham study found that 71% believe fully autonomous vehicles are already on the market, even though the government aren’t aiming for them to be on our roads for several years. This further highlights the confusion surrounding driverless cars as well as the self-driving capability of vehicles currently available.


Defining a driverless car


There is no perfect definition at the current time, but the most widely used references to vehicle autonomy are the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Levels. These were designed to try and explain the requirements for increasing driver assistance & autonomy, however when shown to respondents, there was still confusion. When asked to choose a definition that best described a driverless car, only a third chose the correct SAE Level 5 (Fully Autonomous): “A vehicle that can make informed decisions and control itself and does not require a driver to take control in any situation as it is able to adapt to its surroundings.” Level 4 (Highly Autonomous) behave similarly, but only in very specific defined situations. One in ten chose: “A vehicle that has one form of autonomous technology, such as steering, speed or braking control”, which is SAE Level 1 and only provides limited driver assistance. To put this into perspective, many cars on the road today are already at Level 2 and we are starting to see the introduction of level 3 vehicles. While driverless cars aren’t available yet, millions of motorists are already using autonomous technology on a daily basis without even realising, including cruise control, lane assist and self-parking.


However, when asked about the types of technology they were aware of, more than a quarter of respondents said they were unaware of cruise control. Three quarters went on to say they don’t think they’d ever used cruise control, despite it being readily available in most modern cars. On the other hand, 61% said that cruise control has already improved road safety, with a further 82% and 71% feeling the same for lane assist and parking assist. What’s more, 84% said they think Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), which the EU is currently calling to be installed in all new vehicles as standard, will also improve safety on our roads.

“Driverless cars will revolutionise transport for the better, making our roads safer but also creating mobility solutions for people who are unable to drive. It is not surprising however, that new technology can be confusing and even lead to scepticism. What is clear, is that we need to educate motorists on the benefits of autonomous vehicles because consumer trust will be vital to their success.” David Williams, Technical Director, AXA UK