Safety is Topmost Concern on Adoption of Autonomous Vehicles

According to a study performed by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) which involved 1,006 Singaporeans, safety concerns determine the extent of public support for autonomous vehicles (AVs).

Findings have implications for improving the adoption rate of driverless vehicles. Image Credit: Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

In other words, when it comes to using AVs, public support on the use of such vehicles depends on their level of safety, rather than their economic consequences and privacy issues that arise from the information they might obtain.

Headed by the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, the study subjected its participants to both negative and positive blog posts about AVs and their effect on the local economy and jobs, their safety and their collection of information.

All the three 'frames'—how something is demonstrated to the general public—were chosen from a content study of The Straits Times news reports between 2015 and 2020.

The study respondents were subsequently asked if they believe that AVs were good or bad, wise or foolish, pleasant or unpleasant, useful or useless and safe or dangerous. The respondents’ support for AVs was also quantified on a five-point scale.

After the study respondents were exposed to data on the potentially dangerous aspect of AVA, they had a less favorable perception toward these vehicles even when they were shown a positive blog post on how many high paying jobs can be generated by AVs or how efficiency and convenience could be provided by driverless cars by using the information they collect, for instance, by tracking individuals’ preferences or recalling their schedules.

One major debate about driverless cars, which hinges on the use of artificial intelligence technologies, lies in their limitation to make judgments that lie at the intersections of human values, moral rights, ethics, and social norms. This limitation may present safety risks, particularly in cases when traffic accidents are unavoidable.

Shirley Ho, Study Lead and Professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

This could potentially explain why the negative safety messages in our study had a stronger effect on the respondents,” added Professor Ho.

She further stated with the drive toward the adoption of AVs around the world, these results can offer crucial insights to policymakers.

Singapore has extended its AV testing to span all public regions in its western regions and is aiming to serve three regions with autonomous buses from 2022 onwards.

Professor Ho, who is also the Research Director for Arts, Humanities, Education and Social Sciences at NTU Singapore, added, “With AVs expected to be integrated into Singapore’s land transport master plan, there is an urgent need for policymakers to examine the different strategies to communicate about driverless cars to the Singapore public.”

Our study has found that it is important to address the safety considerations. Even after all the safety measures are in place, public consultation is still necessary to ensure that the public’s concerns, especially those of a moral and ethical nature, are taken into consideration in the process of developing the technology, before launching driverless cars on a large scale.

Shirley Ho, Study Lead and Professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

The new study was published in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research in February 2021.

Pre-Existing Values Drive Perception of AVs

These results are based on an NTU study performed in 2020 and in which the same group of 1,006 Singaporeans were surveyed.

The study also noted that the public’s acceptance toward the use of AVs, which is 'marginally positive,' is fueled by their value predispositions, for example, their perception of the benefits and risks of AVs when compared to AV-specific knowledge or general science knowledge.

During their analysis, Professor Ho and her research team also observed that while the public recognized the promising advantages of AVs, like boosting human productivity, reducing fuel consumption, and supporting the disabled and elderly to be more independent, they also harbored a high level of risk perception toward AVs.

Apart from technical mistakes that may lead to safety concerns, the study respondents were also concerned over possible security problems posed by hackers and privacy problems created by precise location tracking capabilities integrated into the AVs.

These findings suggest that driverless cars may not achieve widespread usage in Singapore if there are no efforts to promote it, limiting the degree to which the society can reap the technology’s benefits.

Shirley Ho, Study Lead and Professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


Journal Reference:

Ho, S S (2021) Complementary and competitive framing of driverless cars: framing effects, attitude volatility, or attitude resistance? International Journal of Public Opinion Research.


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