Scepticism reigns in new Irish self-driving car survey

4 Feb 2016

While the tech world pumps vast sums of money into self-driving car technologies, it seems that here in Ireland not everyone feels that all signs point to its future adoption.

Given that, at least in a testing capacity, there is a self-driving car on the road already, it would suggest that it’s likely the technology will become more common in the coming decades, but not unless it overcomes driver trepidation.

According to a new survey provided by the AA with data obtained from its Irish members, more than a third (36pc) of respondents said they either don’t want or are unsure about using a self-driving car themselves in the future.

This is not a huge surprise considering it is a rapidly-developing sector where many of the stories being published about it cover its latest hiccup on the roads of Silicon Valley or Orwellian fear-mongering over its implications for the average road user.

Recently, Comtrade’s Marko Javornik spoke with about the future of automation and, based off his research, floated the idea of ending private car ownership in favour of ride-sharing and communal self-driving cars.

However, the survey continues, concerns about the technology are not just limited to elderly drivers, with little generational differences seen in drivers up to 65 years old, although those born between 1991 and 1998 have a slightly more favourable attitude toward self-driving cars.

Give the people what they want

The biggest factor, the AA’s research shows, is fears over safety of both the driver and pedestrians, with a preference for night-vision and pedestrian detection being expressed by many of those surveyed.

“When it comes to driverless cars, it’s clear that attitudes are not dictated by age or location as previously thought,” said Conor Faughnan, director of consumer affairs at the AA. “It’s surprising because attitudes towards new technologies often fall along generational and location lines.”

Faughnan went on to criticise tech companies working on autonomous vehicles for what he perceives to be the creation of a rural/city divide.

Self-driving cars and heading to the pub

“Autonomous cars would prove the most valuable for older generations living in rural areas, but manufacturers clearly have their work cut out for them if they are to undo what appears to be collective scepticism.

“It should be disconcerting for them though, having spent billions on research and development, with the technology even slated to revive rural businesses in Ireland. This is slowly emerging as a socio-cultural obstacle, as opposed to a policy one.”

This reference to rural businesses comes following Kerry politician Michael-Healy Rae discussing autonomous vehicles’ potential to bring people to-and-from the pub safely in rural areas.

Aside from night-vision, the two other biggest requests from those surveyed were for the addition of vehicle tracking (76pc) and for the ability to remotely shut down the car in transit (74pc).

Rural Irish road image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic