Revealed: No green light yet for self-driving cars, say Irish road users
15 May 2018
RSA conference hears that connected and autonomous vehicle industry is worth an estimated €900bn, and that Ireland should be brave and ambitious and grab a slice of this as it could lead to the creation of 100,000 jobs here
Almost 40 per cent of Irish adults have said they wouldn’t trust a self-driving car, a Road Safety Authority (RSA) survey into the attitudes of Irish adults towards self-driving cars has revealed.
The study, which was conducted by Behaviour and Attitudes, was presented at the RSA’s annual international conference recently, which this year focused on Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) or self-driving vehicles as they are more commonly known.
Awareness of concept of self-driving cars is high
Overall awareness of the concept of self-driving cars is high (73 per cent) among Irish adults, rising to 82 per cent of Irish adults in the ABC1 demographic. Meanwhile, 36 per cent of Irish motorists believe self-driving cars will be on Irish roads in 10 years or less.
The research showed that 40 per cent of Irish adults believe self-driving cars are a ‘good idea’ – rising to 54 per cent of those under 25 years old. However, there is still some way to go before Irish people have confidence in self-driving cars as 39 per cent admitted they wouldn’t trust a self-driving car to bring them safely and securely to their destinations.
Despite these misgivings, the main perceived benefit of self-driving cars is primarily associated with easier and safer driving, with 42 per cent of those interested in owning a self-driving car maintaining that they will lead to less road deaths and injuries.
The survey also found that more than a quarter (26 per cent) of Irish adults express strong interest in owning a self-driving car – something that declines significantly with age – peaking at 41 per cent of those under 25 years old.
More than half (53 per cent) of those interested in owning an autonomous car see themselves using the free time created by self-driving to use their phones, read or watch television, while 12 per cent say they would use the time to sleep.
Presenting at the conference, Dr Oliver Carsten, professor of transport safety at the University of Leeds, discussed the risk factors in terms of speeding, drinking alcohol and wearing of seatbelts. In Ireland, between 2012-2016, 29 per cent of vehicle fatalities were linked to consumption of alcohol. In the UK, 25 per cent of vehicle-related fatalities are down to fatigue. “Self-driving cars don’t get tired,” said Dr Carsten.
He said that he hoped there would be less driver errors with CAVs; however, he said they would need extremely good sensor capabilities. He cited an example of what can go wrong when he mentioned the case in Arizona in March 2018 when a CAV, travelling at 40mph – within five miles of the limit – didn’t see anything when a cyclist crossed the road, and which resulted in a fatality. It was both a failure in sensor capability and in safety management, as the driver wasn’t paying attention or supervising.
Dr Carsten said it would not be acceptable for a few people to die while this technology is being tested. He said the alternative would be the ALARP principle (as low as reasonably practical). The general public would expect almost total safety, he said.
Dr John McCarthy, leader for intelligent mobility, Digital Services Ireland, at Arup, said that CAVs were a €900 billion industry: “It’s global but Ireland can – and should – play its part. People say we have no indigenous car industry. They’re wrong,” he said. CAVs are essentially big computers, with hardware and software on wheels.
Ireland can get a lot out of the process; he mentioned that there was potential for the creation of 100,000 jobs, and that this was a conservative figure within the environment that we have a capability in right now.
“We’ve shown it over the last 10 to 20 years – ICT has grown phenomenally. CAVs are the next step; it requires us to be brave and ambitious,” said Dr McCarthy. Why shouldn’t it be us, he asked. He then outlined the steps required to meet the challenge. There would have to be a test environment; policy and regulations would need updating; all capital projects would need an ACES (autonomous, connected, electric, shared) element, he said; and finally, investment in skills development would be key.
Dr Edward Jones, senior lecturer in electrical and electronic engineering and director of the Connaught Automotive Research (CAR) Group, NUI Galway, talked about the technology behind the wheel. He described the sensors as ‘the eyes’, and the artificial intelligence as ‘the brains’. In essence, he said that the process would involve incremental development, that is, there would be evolution, not revolution. The technology will improve, he said, but it will be a long time before we move to a fully automated situation.
Technology not perfect but improving all the time
“The technology is not perfect but it is improving all the time,” Dr Jones said. “And interaction between driver and vehicle remains critical. Finally, expectations will have to be managed.”
Dr Charles Johnson, technical director, CAS, said that universal, fully self-driving vehicles may be a long way off and restricted to off-road networks in the short term. He said progress towards this goal would be constrained by the available infrastructure, and that sophisticated driver assistance was the most likely development in the short to medium term.
With a highly automated vehicle, people will naturally bring a wide range of objects into the car space, according to Dr Noah Goodall, a research scientist based at the Virginia Transportation Research Council. He concluded that:
• During automated driving, participants will vary considerably in the range of activities they prefer to carry out, and most of these will have a strong visual element;
• Trust and situation awareness scores will change with exposure, and change as a result of an unexpected emergency event;
• The general trend is for participants to look at the health bar less with time;
• With current vehicle designs, people will struggle at times to find a comfortable posture in which to engage with their preferred activities.
Liz O’Donnell, RSA chairperson, said: “Connected and Automated Vehicle technologies are clocking up significant test miles across the world and have the potential to make a major positive impact on road safety.
Transition period to self-driving vehicles needs to be carefully planned and managed
“The transition period to self-driving vehicles needs to be carefully planned and managed in this country as this is likely to be the most challenging part of adopting this technology in Ireland. It is critical that Ireland has the right national regulatory framework in place to ensure the safe roll out of these ‘self-driving’ vehicles across the nation. For example, Irish road traffic laws will need to be updated to adapt to the new and emerging technologies.”
Moyagh Murdock, RSA chief executive, said: “I was somewhat surprised at the results of the research commissioned by ourselves about the awareness among the Irish public of how soon driverless and CAV vehicles could arrive on our roads.
“While we have some of the most cutting-edge technology companies, such as Apple, Google and Facebook, located here in this country and we are a hub for innovation, there appears to be relatively low expectations as to the potential for self-driving vehicles to improve road safety.
“I think we will see them on our roads much sooner than people currently realise. While some may say that we should be addressing issues such as potholes, road markings and signage before worrying about driverless cars, we must prepare for the inevitable arrival of autonomous vehicles by raising public awareness, identifying the necessary legislative changes, building capability on new roads and investing in technology infrastructure such as 5G.
Extent to which motorists currently use self-driving features
The research study also addressed the extent to which motorists currently use self-driving features in their cars. The results show that 32 per cent of Irish motorists indicated that their car currently has self-driving features, such as adaptive cruise control, automatic parking, intelligent speed adaptation, collision avoidance system and lane keeping assist – peaking at 42 per cent of ABC1 motorists. Among those motorists with self-driving features available, 76 per cent had ever used any of these features (this equates to 25 per cent of all motorists).
• 73 per cent of Irish adults are aware of the concept of ‘self-driving’ cars, rising to 82 per cent of ABC1s;
• 32 per cent of Irish motorists indicate their current car has any of the listed self-driving features. ‘Any’ current availability of self-driving features peaks at 42 per cent of ABC1 motorists;
• Among those motorists with self-driving features available, 76 per cent had ever used any of the features (equates to 25 per cent of all motorists);
• 40 per cent of Irish adults agree self-driving cars are a ‘good idea’ – rising to 54 per cent of those under 25 years;
• 35 per cent of adults would trust a self-driving car to bring them safety and securely to their destination – peaking among under 25 years and motorists who have used in-car features;
• 36 per cent of Irish motorists think self-driving cars will be on Irish roads in 10 years or less. Those under 25 years, ABC1s, and Dubliners are most likely to think autonomous cars will be on Irish roads in 10 years or less;
• 26 per cent of Irish motorists indicate strong interest in owning a self-driving car. Interest in owning a self-driving vehicle declines significantly by age – peaking at 41 per cent of those under 25 years;
• 28 per cent of Irish adults express strong interest in using self-driving public transport. Interest in self-driving public transport peaks at 42 per cent of those under 25 years;
• The perceived main benefit of autonomous cars is primarily associated with easier driving and less road fatalities/injuries. More than 40 per cent of those interested in owning an autonomous car think they will lead to less road deaths and injuries. Those under 25 years are much more likely to associate autonomous cars with the benefit of easier driving than less road deaths and injuries;
• More than half of those interested in owning a self-driving car see themselves using the time created to use their phone or read/watch television. Predicted use of phone peaks among those under 25 years;
• The expense of purchase and maintenance is the most prominent concern around autonomous cars. Those ‘not interested’ in owning an autonomous car are most likely to mention concerns around the potential for danger with non-self-driving cars and VRUs.