Majority of Australians ready for a driverless future: ADVI

Despite the lack of community interaction with autonomous vehicles, a majority of Australians feel positive about a driverless future.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

Seven in 10 Australians trust autonomous vehicles to take over when they feel tired, bored, or physically and mentally incapable of driving manually, according to a study by the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI).

More than 5,000 Australians aged 18 and over were surveyed by ADVI and its academic partners, including the University of New South Wales, through an 80-question survey designed to help guide research, marketing, and vehicle design efforts.

According to ADVI's preliminary findings, 69 percent of survey respondents said they would rather a driverless car take the lead when driving was "boring or monotonous", and 60 percent said they would prefer an autonomous vehicle during traffic congestion.

Participants said the most likely activity they would spend their time doing in driverless cars was observing scenery at 78 percent, followed by interacting with passengers on 76 percent, resting came in at 52 percent, and doing work-related activities polled at 36 percent.

Almost half, 47 percent, of Australians surveyed felt self-driving vehicles would be safer than human drivers.

While road accidents fluctuate throughout the year, total annual deaths decreased by 24.6 percent over the last decade, with the estimated trend being a reduction of 3.7 percent per year. The strongest downward trends were achieved in Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria, according to the Australian Government's Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.

The potential for self-driving vehicles to improve road safety isn't being felt by everyone, with 25 percent of the survey participants outright disagreeing, and 28 percent remaining undecided.

Lead researcher, Professor Michael Regan, Chief Scientist -- Human Factors at the Australian Road Research Board, said it's encouraging that a significant portion of Australians have positive feelings about the future of self-driving vehicles, given the lack of interaction with such technology.

"It's just under a year since ADVI led the first trial of autonomous cars on Australian roads, and fully driverless vehicles aren't yet even available to the public, but the Australian public is already quite advanced in its thinking," said Regan.

"ADVI's preliminary findings show the majority of the Australian community is already willing to trust self-driving cars in situations where they don't feel capable to drive or when they would simply rather not because it's boring or they're in traffic."

ADVI's findings also showed 82 percent of Australians recognise that driverless vehicles will provide greater mobility for people with driving impairments.

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    With drug and drink driving remaining a major road safety problem in Australia -- in NSW alone, 18 to 20 percent of fatal accidents include drink driving as a factor -- ADVI's preliminary results show that 55 percent would use a self-driving vehicle if they had consumed alcohol, drugs, or medication that could impact their ability to drive safely.

    The study also found 62 percent of Australians believe self-driving vehicles will reduce insurance premiums; 38 percent believe these vehicles would be more fuel-efficient than non-autonomous vehicles; and almost a third believe these vehicles will reduce their travel times.

    For vehicle manufacturers, the research found 62 percent of Australians think they shouldn't need to pay more for autonomous technology; but of those willing to spend more, they would invest an additional AU$9,000 on average for a fully-automated car.

    An economic report released by ADVI last month claimed Australia could unlock AU$95 billion a year in economic value and generate 16,000 new jobs by taking a more proactive approach to the introduction of autonomous vehicles in Australia.

    Just yesterday, the South Australian government announced that it would hand out AU$10 million in grants over the next three years to encourage the testing, research, and development of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies in the state.

    The government's investment in the space comes after South Australia -- which had a thriving car manufacturing industry, employing 100,000 working at the start of the 1980s -- experienced a major economic blow in recent years with the closure of its car manufacturing base.

    The AU$10 million investment is intended to attract autonomous technology creators around the country to bring their business to South Australia.

    "Transforming the South Australian economy depends on our ability to adopt new ways of doing things, using advanced technologies to build globally competitive, high-value firms, and sustainable, well-paid jobs," said South Australian Transport and Infrastructure Minister Stephen Mullighan.

    "It is estimated that the driverless vehicle industry will be worth AU$90 billion globally by 2030. Getting our state involved early will open up new opportunities for South Australian businesses and our economy."

    Earlier this year, South Australia became the first national jurisdiction to legalise the testing of driverless vehicles on its roads. The state is already home to autonomous vehicle manufacturers such as Cohda Wireless, SAGE Automation, and Sydac.

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