Monday Musing: Connected vehicles for connected people

Glenn Dives, BPA Governance and Public Affairs Officer shares his thoughts on connected and autonomous vehicles

We hear a lot about Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV), that they are just around the corner, heralding a new industrial revolution and adding meaning to the often heard but not always well-understood Internet of Things. So much of what is written is by journalists, fresh from a demonstration or briefing, or from industry experts who are committed to highlighting what the benefits of this change would be. In most of these pieces, however, there is something missing, namely the views of ordinary people.

It is therefore extremely timely that Government published a few weeks ago a fascinating report looking at public perceptions on the development of CAV. The report, titled CAV public acceptability dialogue, was produced by the Department for Transport, the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles and Sciencewise, all funded by UK Research and Innovation. The report is based on a series of workshops held in five locations across the UK. At these locations over 150 people were brought together with specialists and policymakers, between October and December 2018, to discuss the implications of CAV, plus at some of the locations, they got to experience self-driving technology for themselves. (I must admit to being mildly jealous about that last bit… where do consultant companies find people? Answers on a postcard please).

Anyway…on to the report. Overall, most participants were generally positive about the possible impact of CAV on themselves and on society but were sceptical on how quickly the technology would become commonplace. They were also concerned about policy being dictated solely by market forces which could limit the potential benefits. There was also no clear sense that a single answer would help relieve concerns, as participants poised more questions as their knowledge grew.

However, there was genuine cautious optimism from participants. From the discussion, the authors were able to identify six key conditions which they believed government and other stakeholders need to consider when overseeing the introduction of CAV technology.

  1. CAVs must be proven to be safe and secure: Safety and security were the primary concerns, influencing participants views. Safety was a multi-faceted subject, incorporating issues such as reliability, road/personal safety, and data/security. Overall there was a desire to understand what new risks CAV technology presented, rather than focus on the impact of CAV on existing transport systems safety.
  2. Benefits must be accessible to all: Participants were not clear how much CAVs would cost or whether they would be accessible for people with mobility needs or other disabilities. They insisted that they should not be allowed to reinforce current inequalities and strongly demand the government ensure equitable access and consider the needs of minority groups.
  3. CAVs must be good for society and good for jobs: Participants thought that there would be substantial changes associated with CAVs and were motivated by the benefits to society and employment, rather than potential environmental or economic benefits. While expecting significant costs associated with infrastructure upgrades, this did not significantly influence opinions. Participants generally concluded that vehicle manufacturers should contribute to those costs, as they were perceived to benefit significantly from their introduction.
  4. People must remain in control of their transport choices: Participants recognised a tension between their desire to maximise the benefits of CAVs and a wish to ensure nobody would be forced to change to a CAV before they were ready. There was a sense most of the benefits from CAV would be realised once they were the dominant mode of transport, this implied that the participants believed that the introduction of CAVs would be dependent on proof of their safety in a mixed technology context. Related to this, was whether the user should be able to take control. Some participants saw this as a vital safety measure, while others believed it would make the vehicles less safe. Participants were not able to reach a conclusion on this. Participants were very clear that future travel needed to be at least as convenient and flexible as current options to foster acceptance. Participants were hesitant to trust journey planning to CAVs as they did not believe they would choose the best, most reliable, or preferred routes. In addition, many participants associated vehicle ownership with personal freedom, and feared that shared CAVs would be much less convenient.
  5. There must be clear guidance on accountability: Participants were very concerned about accountability, particularly in the event of an accident. Conversations with industry experts allayed most of those fears, but this highlighted the crucial importance of disseminating information widely for public understanding of these significant changes. It was suggested that information would include existing legislation, progress in insurance and liability research, the potential for insurance and premiums to improve, and fault being established using vehicle data. This motivated participants to conclude that different parties would each have their own responsibilities – manufacturers ensuring that technology and software was safe; owners maintaining their vehicles; and government for overseeing the successful and safe introduction of the technology.
  6. New bodies for oversight should be created: Participants were not confident in the government’s ability to manage trials and the roll-out of CAVs to ensure prioritisation of safety over market pressures to get products on the road. A new oversight body with powers to ensure concerns were considered would assuage some of these concerns.

While the report considered these as the six crucial conditions for the government to understand, I thoroughly recommend that you read the full report yourself.

There is, I think, another factor which needs to be considered from this research and indeed crops up in many other pieces of research, which is communication and specifically how we communicate this to our stakeholders (which in the parking sector is pretty much everyone). People enjoy being consulted and having the opportunity to influence the decision-making process. Encouraging all our stakeholders to get involved, to tell us their experiences, opinions and views and then use that data to help shape the solutions we are delivering to customers, members, or ordinary people.

At the BPA, we are already trying to do this, by consulting with members, acting on their suggestions and supporting a community of engaged participants. We are also reaching out to the public to find out how they perceive the sector. We’re doing this to cultivate an open and innovative sector but there is still more that can be done, and as a final thought I would like to encourage anyone with ideas, suggestions or opinions to get in touch by emailing us at consultations@britishparking.co.uk