Are we ready for AVs on the roads?
More and more cities and countries globally are preparing their roads for AV deployment, but are people actually prepared to accept AVs on their roads?
Like many other studies, the study of the European research centre MIND-SETS Knowledge Centre (MSKC) specialised on mobility and behaviour, points out that ‘there is an important difference between the availability of a technology and its widespread adoption.’ Moreover, they warn that user acceptance could be a major barrier in the move to full automation, despite the technological readiness.
The main concerns against AVs are ethical considerations (in case of a collision, which life should be prioritised) and security issues (AVs could be hacked or even used as ‘bomb cars’). Moreover, the idea of spending your commuting time in a pleasant way would make people tolerate longer travel times, hence worsening traffic congestion.
Not surprisingly most current AV legislations still require a safety driver, even for fully autonomous vehicles. This is a direct consequence of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, an international treaty that has regulated international road traffic since 1968 and that holds the human driver responsible for the behaviour of the vehicle in all cases. Note that the UK, for instance, never signed the treaty and could have a legal advantage when it comes to the deployment of fully driverless cars.
As a result, nowadays most AVs are only deployed after a legal permit of the transport authorities of the concerned area has been obtained and when there's a safety driver on board. Interesting is the pioneering role of European and North American countries introducing dedicated regulations for self-driving cars on public roads, issuing autonomous testing permits. However, Asian countries have been catching up quickly over the last couple of years.
AV readiness, legislation and acceptance
But legislation and technological readiness are only two factors of the overall AV readiness of a region. At the start of the year, consultancy firm KPMG made a first ‘AV readiness index’, which included road infrastructure and consumer acceptance besides legislation and technology.
The Netherlands, for instance, rank first not only because of their excellent road and EV infrastructure, but also thanks to its highly supportive government – in terms of legislation – and high consumer acceptance.
Singapore has the highest consumer acceptance, but due to the lack of technology headquarters, dedicated patents and investments, it ends up second. On the other hand, the open attitude of the Singaporeans towards AVs goes hand in hand with the highly elaborated legislation, which allows AVs to be tested on public roads even without a safety driver.
The USA ranks third, despite its high technology score, due to its low coverage of electric cars on the one hand, and its poor uniform national legislative framework and its lower public acceptance on the other hand. The exceptional high number of test locations in the US actually does involve but a small part of the population. Moreover, every state has its own autonomous driving legislation, while regulation at the federal level is still being discussed.
When it comes to consumer acceptance, the UK ranks 3rd, but ends op fifth in the overall ranking due to its poor infrastructure. Yet, the UK ranks on top for policy and legislation, with the remarkable decision of the Department for Transport that driverless cars can operate on any public roads without permits or extra insurance.
Germany, for instance, ranks high regarding policy and legislation, but fell to the 6th place due to low consumer acceptance and poor infrastructure. The German parliament passed a law that even allows drivers of driverless cars to remove their hands from the wheel, however they have to be ready to take control whenever necessary.
In a nutshell, the wide deployment of AVs might be on its way, but legislation and consumer acceptance are important barriers that need to be tackled before fully implementing the new technology. At the same time, it is unclear whether one is the result of the other or the other way round. In many cases, it's likely to be both,as high acceptance and high supportive legislation go together in a highly AV ready environment.