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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: