What priorities do older adults have for driverless vehicles?

14th June 2017

During Spring 2017 the OPM Group team were busy running a combination of focus groups and interviews with 40 members of the public. The research sought to explore the attitudes, and the pragmatic challenges and opportunities, faced by older people; people with mobility impairments; and carers when using this technology.

Participants explored the topic with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm. Those who saw themselves as likely to benefit from using driverless vehicles the most, e.g. those with moderate health conditions and impairments that currently impact their ability to travel, tended to be the most positive about the potential of connected driverless vehicles.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, by contrast, current drivers were more likely to say that they would be unlikely to use driverless vehicles, because they enjoy driving and because they value the sense of control and independence that driving their own car gives them.

Most participants, regardless of their background and mobility needs, had immediate questions and concerns about whether these vehicles would be safe and about the viability of the technology, especially if they were to share the roads with non-driverless vehicles. For some participants, sharing the road with non-driverless vehicles was a ‘red line’ which they would be unwilling to cross.

In addition, a number of other priority issues emerged. These included:

The importance of training and support to use driverless vehicles: It was often suggested that people in the oldest age groups, who were not confident technology users, would need a greater level of reassurance, training, and support before they could appreciate the benefits of and consider using driverless vehicles.

Widespread concerns about affordability: Particularly when the vehicles are first launched. Participants suggested that hire schemes and government subsidies might help to make these vehicles affordable to the groups who stand to benefit the most.

Managing demand for driverless vehicles: Participants suggested that there could be a surge in use, especially if they became highly accessible. This could lead to an increase in congestion, energy use and potentially health problems such as obesity, if users became too reliant on them to get around.

Next steps

The findings from OPM’s first round of public engagement research are informing the vehicle trialling and development of the technologies that are being taken forward by FLOURISH. Over autumn the brief will be developed for the second round of research, in collaboration with FLOURISH consortium partners’ Designability and the University of West England.

Authored by: Tim Vanson, OPM Group.

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