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UK government publishes new insights on transport tech attitudes

The latest wave of the study investigates public attitudes on innovations such as autonomous vehicles and drones

The Department for Transport has published findings of the latest wave of a study that aims to track public perceptions of innovations such as automated vehicles and drones.

Awareness and knowledge of current, emerging and future transport technologies such as automated vehicles, drones, mobility as a service and ride-sharing are investigated in the research.

The latest paper is related to the fourth wave of the research the DfT commissioned Kantar to carry out in 2017 – there are six waves planned in total. Some 3,500 adults in England are taking part in each wave of study, and the latest stage was conducted in June 2019.

Regarding autonomous vehicles (AVs), 86% of those polled reported having an awareness, while claimed knowledge of how the technology works rose to 59%, which is the highest level observed to date (up from 53% in December 2018).

Groups more likely to claim knowledge about AVs included men (71% versus women at 49%), those living in urban areas (61% versus rural areas 53%) and those on higher income brackets, according to the study. At a regional level, populations in the North East of England had slightly lower levels of knowledge.

Within those who claimed some knowledge of AVs, perceived advantages of AVs were safety (18%), followed by being less stressful/not having to worry about driving (12%) and convenience (12%). Disadvantages included safety of equipment and systems (46%), while 34% mentioned safety in unexpected situations.

According to the report, the perception that AVs offered no advantages increased with age, from 19% of those aged 16-24 rising to 44% of those aged 65+.

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On drones, the report noted that the survey was the first time the tracker had run since the disruption of Gatwick airport by drones in December 2018, so awareness was higher than what was reported in December 2018 (91%) but similar to the figure recorded in June 2018 (94%).

While most respondents reported awareness, claimed knowledge stood at 77%, which is the highest level recorded across the four tracker waves by some margin – in previous waves this was between 69% and 71%.

Some 31% of those polled claimed that they knew a “fair amount” or “a lot” about drones, there was a significant proportion of those aware of each technology said that they only knew “a little” (about 40% of respondents) or “hardly anything” about it – an average of 20% of those polled stated that was the case.

A minority of people reported having used a drone: 11% claimed to have done so in June 2019. This proportion has not changed in relation to the previous waves of research in December 2017 and June 2018.

When it comes to applications of drones in various settings, emergency response received the highest level of support (86%), followed by police use (78%), infrastructure management (76%) and professional photography use (63%). Four in 10 (42%) supported drone use for leisure purposes and 36% for retail.

Privacy issues are the main concern voiced by survey participants, mentioned by six in 10 (59%). Three in 10 (31%) worry about the use of airspace, as well as collision with aircraft, and 29% mentioned the misuse of drones for criminal activity.

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