May 26, 2024

Self-driving vehicle (SDV) is being touted as the solution to safer and more efficient roads. However, a new study suggests that British Columbians may not be ready for self-driving car adoption. They will need time to adjust.

The Research on Active Transportation Lab at the University of British Columbia conducted a study that revealed mixed perceptions of autonomous vehicles, especially their effects on pedestrian safety and comfort.

Does self-driving cars feel safe?

Four out of ten participants (41%) believed that pedestrians face reduced levels of safety and comfort in SDV interaction compared with conventional human-driven cars. In contrast, 34% viewed SDV interaction more positively, while 25% reported no bias either way.

The study involved 1,133 participants across B.C. The study aimed to gauge public opinion about self-driving cars. Participants viewed eight videos showing interactions between pedestrians at crosswalks and vehicles. The vehicles were divided into two groups: half of them were labeled as autonomous, and the other were marked as being driven by humans. Humans actually operated all the vehicles in the videos, which allowed the researchers to detect biases.


People who are anxious or uncomfortable about new technology tend to have a negative attitude towards SDVs. Residents in the Lower Mainland also tended to have a more negative view, probably because there are many more pedestrians here.

Opinions also diverged on the broader question of permitting SDVs on public roads. Among those surveyed, 55 percent voiced support for allowing shared SDVs, such as taxis or shuttles, while 48 percent backed privately owned SDVs.

There was a marked consensus on regulation. Up to 92 percent of participants agreed that rules like requiring driverless cars to have identifying markings and having a human in the driving seat who is prepared to take over in an emergency were acceptable.

Participants supported restrictions, including the location where driverless vehicles can operate. Image by REACT lab.

Regulations for self-driving cars

Researchers propose that, in order to avoid any negative impact on pedestrians or other road users and address the complex public concerns about SDVs by introducing them gradually into city streets (starting with a controlled testing phase), they should be introduced slowly and under a controlled test environment.

The experts also recommend launching a robust public awareness campaign to raise awareness and highlight the benefits of autonomous vehicles. They suggest starting pilot testing on shared SDVs rather than private SDVs.

Other recommendations include requiring that SDVs:

  • Adopt a more conservative driving style than human-driven vehicles, especially in urban areas — for example, allowing pedestrians an extra two to four seconds at crosswalks.
  • Use external communication features to alert other road users to their automated status;
  • Have a person in the driver’s seat to take over in an emergency.
  • Avoid pedestrian priority zones such as those near schools.

Researchers say that the study funded by TransLink is the first one to measure the perception biases of the population towards SDVs.

The REACT principal researcher, Dr. Alex Bigazzi of UBC’s civil engineering department, said: “At this crucial point in the introduction and use of automated vehicles, we must understand and consider all of their effects, especially on pedestrians.”

He noted that the industry has often set policies for ride-hailing and SDV tests in other places by launching them without adequate system-level planning and controls.

A lack of proactive policies in some regions led to problems and missed chances for integrating new technologies in ways that advance system objectives such as sustainability and equity. This research will help policymakers ensure that automated vehicles are introduced in a strategic manner and for the benefit of the public.

Before the product can be sold, researchers must solve other problems. Experts will need to reduce the thickness of the solid electrolyte to a level similar to that found in lithium-ion battery electrolytes to commercialize the all-solid-state batteries. This will increase the energy density or the amount of Power the batteries can store. The team also said that the high costs of basic materials are another problem.

Solid Power, a manufacturer of advanced batteries, plans to start testing the new technology in order to evaluate its commercialization potential. Researchers said that they will continue to research ways to boost energy density.


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