Before the first self-driving car has even gone to market, a new study suggests a significant proportion of buyers will be ready to make the leap into hands-free motoring.
The research, carried out by the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) - a venture coordinated by independent roads and transport research company ARRB Group - is described as "the first comprehensive national study" into the Australian commuter's views on driverless vehicles.
The survey asked 80 questions of its "more than" 5000 participants, approved by the human ethics committee at the University of NSW. Details of the participants' profession, interests and understanding of driverless technology have not been revealed, although ADVI says the sample is "truly representative" of the Australian population.
Preliminary results from the survey of "more than" 5000 Australian adults showed that nearly three quarters of respondents (73 per cent) would like an autonomous vehicle to take over "when they feel physically or mentally unable to drive manually".
The study also showed that some 69 per cent of respondents would prefer to have a driverless vehicle take over when the task is at its most "boring or monotonous".
But, despite that apparent readiness to give control over to the vehicle's computers and sensor array, fewer respondents (47 per cent) felt that self-driving cars will be safer than human drivers.
ARRB Group's Chief Scientist for Human Factors research, Professor Michael Regan, is taking a 'glass (nearly) half full' perspective on that number.
“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.”
“Given the lack of community interaction with self-driving cars to-date, it’s encouraging that almost half of the Australian population believe they will be safer than human drivers.”
Of the remaining number, a quarter of respondents disagree that driverless vehicles will be safer than humans, while a quarter remain - perhaps wisest of all - undecided. Regan sees this as evidence that government and industry must continue to educate road users on the potential benefits to safety and traffic management.
“This research is a critical first step to understanding public sentiment towards driverless vehicles, so that government and industry can continue working to bring the community along on the journey towards a driverless future and all of the social, safety, economic, environmental and other benefits automation can bring.”
Above: Professor Michael Regan spoke with CarAdvice at last year's Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative conference in Adelaide
The main benefit, according to 52 per cent of respondents, would be rest, although only 28 per cent were brave enough to consider catching some shut-eye.
Of course, as many have discovered with the advent of mobile data communication, productivity may soon creep into the car, with 36 per cent admitting they would likely spend the time working.
The survey's full findings will be published early next year.
The 23rd World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems is currently being held in Melbourne. Watch for further coverage to come from CarAdvice.com this week.