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Shifting public perceptions about autonomous vehicles will save lives

Shifting public perceptions of autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles still seem a long way in the future but trials are taking place across Australia. To ensure a safe transition, public and private sector organisations will need to engage communities even more directly.


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Automated technology accelerates while consumer sentiment stalls

While the global automotive industry accelerates towards full automation, global consumer sentiment toward driver-less vehicles has seen a marked decline1, thanks to issues of consumer trust and rising awareness of the risks associated with AV technologies. The decline is also evident in Australia, with the KPMG Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index 2019 reporting that since 2018 Australia has fallen three places to 12th overall for consumer sentiment2.

Safety remains the public’s primary concern

A 2016 survey of Australian road users, led by Ben Ellis, Partner, Management Consulting, KPMG, found that safety was the most important factor in willingness to pay for AVs and in the usage of driverless cars3. Other recent surveys of Australian consumers have similarly identified the importance of safety to the public4,5.

The reporting of deaths associated with the testing or operation of AVs on public roads has likely contributed to the recent decline in consumer sentiment. In 2018, a pedestrian in Arizona was killed in an incident with a Level 3 conditionally AV6, and in Mountain View, California7 the driver of a Level 3 AV died in an accident while the car was in ‘autopilot’ mode. These two incidents received substantial coverage in the mainstream media.

Autonomous vehicles could save over 1,000 Australian lives every year

Despite these incidents, AVs have the potential to drastically reduce the cost of road crashes to both human life and the economy. In 2016 alone, 1,296 people died on Australian roads8. Of these crashes, approximately 80 percent occurred as a consequence of mistakes such as distraction, fatigue or excessive speed9. In 2015 the cost of road trauma to the Australian economy was approximately $27 billion, over $2 billion more than the 2018 budget for infrastructure10

Infrastructure Victoria estimates that AVs could reduce crashes by up to 94 percent11. If this decline were realised, it could save over 1,000 lives per year on Australian roads. In fact, partial vehicle automation features like emergency braking and electronic stability control are already contributing to a decline in road crashes in Australia.

Understanding consumer sentiment is a crucial first step

By addressing the decline in consumer sentiment, we have the opportunity to accelerate adoption of AVs in Australia. However, as a first step, we require further knowledge of consumers’ wants and needs.

This is already underway in several states. The Queensland Government, as part of its Cooperative and Automated Vehicle Initiative, undertook a survey to understand public awareness of emerging vehicle technologies12. Toll road operator EastLink undertakes an annual survey of attitudes of Victorian motorists to AVs. Further, KPMG is currently undertaking a survey of consumers in relation to their perception of autonomous vehicles and their willingness to pay.

Each of these surveys will enhance transport agencies’ and operators’ understanding of the attitudes of the Australian public towards AVs.

Engagement is key to reversing the decline

The next step is to engage, educate and promote awareness of AV issues to the Australian public. A key means to achieve this, and to address consumer sentiment, is to involve the public in AV trials. To date, the majority of trials have been closed, with few conducted on public roads. Involving the community in trials will not only improve aspects of consumer sentiment, but feedback from Australian consumers can also be incorporated into the development process.

The importance of consumer awareness for adoption of AVs has already been recognised by manufacturers and technology companies. Internationally, the Partners for Autonomous Vehicle Education (PAVE) organisation, supported by a variety of industry, non-profit and academic institutions, aims to inform the public and policymakers through awareness campaigns and public facing trials13

Australian governments can also address consumer sentiment by taking an increasingly active role in the development of AV technology, innovation and policy. As active stakeholders, state and federal governments can continue to engage with technology companies and vehicle manufacturers to incorporate Australian values into the design process, and ensure that Australian standards and ideals are reflected.

Western Australia leads the way with community engagement

The WA RAC Intellicar trial serves as a case study for such engagements. In partnership with the WA Government, the RAC is trialling Level 4 highly autonomous ‘Intellicar’ cars on Perth’s roads. Stage Three of the trial, beginning in 2019, will allow the public to request an Intellicar robotaxi via a mobile application and to travel anywhere within a defined precinct – a significant development in AV trials moving from a fixed-routes to dynamic routing and navigation. Not only will this trial allow the public to experience AVs, it will also demonstrate the potential for future robotaxi services.

How should we respond?

There are a number of actions governments can take to help reverse the decline in consumer sentiment to ensure Australians can realise the benefits of AVs. KPMG recommends the following actions to policymakers:

  •  Continue to invest in surveys and community engagement to better understand the wants and needs of Australian consumers. Understanding consumer awareness and requirements is key to addressing negative and declining consumer sentiment. Providing additional funding or grants for trials which facilitate community engagement may also be beneficial.
  • Take an increasingly active role as a stakeholder in the development of AV policy, technology and innovation to ensure Australian values are reflected. Through policy and regulation, the Government can ensure high standards of manufacturing and technology which reflect Australian values and the wants and needs of Australian consumers.
  • Work to ensure Australian consumers are appropriately informed about emerging technologies to allow them to develop appropriate levels of trust and confidence. Public facing trials, such as the RAC WA Intellicar project serve as a template for such engagements in Australia and should be replicated across other major metropolitan areas.


  1. Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index 2019, KPMG 
  2. Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index 2019, KPMG 
  3. Willingness to pay for driverless cars (PDF 669KB), Australasian Transport Research Forum 2016 Proceedings, November 2016
  4. Autonomous Vehicles Down Under: An Empirical Investigation of Consumer Sentiment (PDF 134KB) Australasian Transport Research Forum 2018 Proceedings, 30 October – 1 November 2018
  5. We asked people if they would trust driverless cars, The Conversation, 14 May 2018
  6. Self-driving Uber kills Arizona woman in first fatal crash involving pedestriant, The Guardian, Australian edition, 19 March 2018
  7. Tesla fatal crash: 'autopilot' mode sped up car before driver killed The Guardian, Australian edition, 7 June 2018
  8. National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 Implementation status report (PDF 602KB) November 2017
  9. National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 (PDF 5.65MB) Australian Transport Council 
  10. Cost of road trauma in Australia (PDF 6.85MB) Australian Automotive Association, Summary Report, September 2017 
  11. Future Scenarios: Advice on automated and zero emissions vehichles infrastructure (PDF 2.43MB), Infrastructure Victoria, April 2018 
  12. Queenslanders have their say on Automomous and Cooperative Vehicles, Queensland Government, August 2018
  13. PAVE, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education

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