Self-driving cars are coming, but should they be labelled?

There is no doubt that autonomous cars are coming. Self-driving vehicles are being developed as you read this article and some highly capable systems have already passed trials on public roads. However, many people are still worried about the safety of autonomous cars. Should they be labelled in some way so that people would know which car has no driver? People in the UK believe so.

Almost all people would like to see autonomous cars labelled in some way. Image credit: The joy of all things via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Scientists surveyed 4,860 members of the British public in late 2021. Participants had to answer some questions about how they view self-driving cars. These questions are very important, because autonomous vehicles are coming – they are inevitable and it won’t be long till seeing a car without a driver will be somewhat normal. It is believed that autonomous cars will actually improve road safety, although the situation might be different during the period when robots and people are driving on the same roads.

That is one of the reasons why most people who participated in this survey expressed their scepticisms about self-driving cars. 58 % said that they would be uncomfortable with using self-driving vehicles, while 55 % didn’t even want to share the road with autonomous vehicles. 92 % of respondents said that in case of an accident all data should be available to investigators. Around the same amount of respondents said that they would like to see autonomous cars labelled – they believe that these vehicles should be marked in a way that would allow identifying them as self-driving. However, manufacturers may not be in favour of such labelling.

UCL Professor Jack Stilgoe, lead author of the study, said: “Some technology developers are worried that, if self-driving vehicles are labelled, drivers, pedestrians and cyclists will be confused or even take advantage of them on the road. Our research suggests that people are sceptical that self-driving vehicles will behave just like human driven vehicles. They want to know when they are dealing with a new object on the road.”

Interestingly, people were more comfortable with self-driving shuttle buses (62 %) and delivery pods (54 %) – most respondents agreed these type of autonomous vehicles would be useful. Meanwhile self-driving taxis, private cars, car clubs and lorries did not get such support – 43%, 42%, 37% and 33% of respondents respectively thought they would be useful. People also said that autonomous vehicles would have to follow traffic rules precisely, but agreed that it is ok for human drivers to sometimes break the rules.

Human scepticism and legitimate worries are a huge challenge for self-driving technology. People are often scared of new things and get more comfortable while having positive experiences with new tech. It will be interesting to see the progress of acceptance of self-driving technology, because this process will have to start pretty soon.


Source: UCL

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