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Mike Waters' blog 7th October: Leap of faith

Date: 07 October 2014

Specifying incorrectly can have a big impact, says Waters

PACTS, the transport safety advisors to Parliament, are focusing their autumn conference this year on driverless vehicles. It's a really interesting subject because drivers seem to be divided on this one. Anecdotally there seem to be those who fear handing control over to a machine in case it malfunctions, those who love to drive and don't want that to be taken away from them, and those who embrace any help that they can get.

Putting the second two categories to one side; for the large group of drivers who are fearful of the technology letting them down, I'm not sure it's the great leap of faith that they think it is. Drivers have been supported by technology for a long time, they maybe just don't realise it.

For example, cruise control has been around for years and drivers willingly use it, as have ABS braking and electronic stability control where the car takes control of the brakes to stop you from skidding or losing control.

Driver reaction to technology is interesting. We recently gave our employees the chance to have a go in some self-parking cars; for many there was a look of fear and for gentle maneuvering at low speeds. I guess it's a bit like flying, where for some people the loss of control can be unnerving.

It's also worth remembering that while technology isn't always 100 percent failsafe, it's still likely to be much more reliable than a human driver. The biggest cause of accidents continues to be driver error and putting a bit more faith in the vehicle is likely to make driving a safer activity.

On this basis, we're not going to see a wave of people hopping out of their normal car and straight into a self-driving vehicle. However, there will be a slow burn as modern cars are fitted with technology which takes control away from the driver to make us safer, or makes our lives easier. In a nutshell, we are becoming reliant on self-driving functionality whether we recognise it or not.

Mike Waters is senior insight & consultancy manager at Arval, the leading vehicle leasing and fleet management company.