Trust and safety among the top priorities for autonomous vehicles

By Conall Martin / Updated: 17 May 2021

A new study has explored passenger experiences in autonomous vehicles in Finland, under various driving conditions, including icy roads and urban environments. The findings suggest that trust, safety and security were the main factors influencing people’s attitudes.

The study – by researchers Petri Launonen, Arto O. Salonen and Heikki Liimatainen – is available online now and is set to be published in the journal ‘Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour’ in July 2021.

While outlooks vary, it is anticipated that autonomous vehicles will be widely implemented in both Europe and the US. Research has estimated that up to 40% of mileage in Europe could be covered by autonomous vehicles by 2030. In addition, the technology shows particular potential for public transport, with a project already underway to implement autonomous shuttle buses in Malaga

The authors highlight that passenger experiences and expectations are a key issue in the development of this technology. Surveys have shown that a significant majority of people in the US and various European countries are uncomfortable with, or feel unsafe at the prospect of, autonomous vehicles. However, research to date has largely been based on expectations. This study is the first of its kind to investigate real-life experiences of passengers after using autonomous vehicles in winter conditions.

Within the study, passengers used a driverless shuttle bus in two test areas in Helsinki, Finland’s capital. In addition, in Muonio – a small town in Finnish Lapland – local residents travelled with an autonomous car in heavy winter conditions on main roads. The quantitative survey included 141 people, and 70 people participated in a qualitative interview.

The researchers assessed passengers’ attitudes towards self-driving cars, factors influencing their positive or negative attitudes, and factors that could encourage passengers to use self-driving cars. The findings indicate that people’s positive attitude towards self-driving cars was most influenced by trust, safety and security. However, participants were not prepared to accept technological errors in self-driving cars, even though it is understood that the technology is not yet mature.

Younger passengers showed more confidence in the safety and security of autonomous cars than older passengers, while students felt more assured in their ability to act in an emergency than people in employment. There was no significant difference between genders, and winter conditions had no impact on people’s attitudes towards autonomous vehicles.

Professor Arto O. Salonen from the University of Eastern Finland – one of researchers who conducted the study – said “Finns have a pragmatic approach to new technology: if the new mode of transport facilitates everyday life and is affordable, there seems to be no obstacle to it becoming mainstream”.

For further information and to access the study, visit the following websites:

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Autonomous and connected vehicles