Driverless cars: Saudi survey finds residents excited, anxious

But only 46 per cent of research participants believe they would be safe in comparison to standard cars

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The future has arrived – driverless cars are officially here.

Driverless cars are currently being tested in Dubai, driverless taxis are being tried in Singapore and the USA, while in the UK trials have also been approved in selected areas.

But how are driverless cars perceived by Saudi Arabia’s citizens?

A recent study using YouGov’s Omnibus Service, has found that most citizens of Saudi Arabia are enthusiastic about driverless cars. However, many have concerns over their safety and implementation.

The study revealed that 61 per cent of the Kingdom’s residents are enthusiastic towards driverless cars with 49 per cent of research participants believing that driverless cars will help reduce traffic congestion on roads.

With new technology comes new concerns and the safety of driverless cars is of great concern as only 46 per cent of research participants believe they would be safe in comparison to standard cars driven by humans.

Nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of KSA’s residents find the biggest worry about using driverless cars is the risk of technology failure e.g. the car failing to stop at traffic lights, followed by software hacking and other mechanical failures (68 per cent).

Creating separate lanes or roads for driverless cars is a solution 66 per cent of residents see as imperative, also 74 per cent believe it would be important to retain ‘manual controls’ in the cars themselves.

Many residents would consider using driverless cars for day-to-day activities such as commuting to work (46 per cent) and travelling on a highway (43 per cent). Conversely not as many residents would consider using driverless cars in high risk situations such as taking a family member or friend in urgent need of medical attention to the hospital (38 per cent) or having children ride to school or other activities alone (39 per cent).

Saudi residents would carry out activities such as speaking on their phone car (47 per cent), talk with other passengers (39 per cent), rest (37 per cent), and listen to the radio (36 per cent) while using a driverless car. However, just 22 per cent of residents would choose to sleep while in a driverless car.

YouGov Senior Research Manager Anjali Chhabra said “driverless cars do offer a promising alternative to driving and would reduce the number of road fatalities due to human error. However, public dilemma related to their security, and how these autonomous vehicles are likely to behave when surrounded by human motorists, leave much room for technology experts and regulators alike to ensure self-driven cars are indeed safe in all situations.”

The $100 billion King Abdullah Economic City being developed on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast will remodel its master plan once again to account for new technology such as driverless cars and the Internet of Things.

Its chief executive Fahd Al Rasheed said it was “currently assessing the master plan to assess the economic and physical implications of technologies such as autonomous automobiles and the increasing prevalence of the Internet of Things”.

He said: “We are working with experts from around the world to help us better understand and project what these developments might mean for city design. Once we have completed that assessment, we will hire the necessary expertise to help us develop the new master plan.”

The changes to the master plan will be the latest in a series of remodelings for King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) since the megaproject was announced in 2005.

The 181-square kilometre city, which will be bigger than Washington DC, is being developed by Emaar The Economic City, a company listed on the Saudi Arabian stock market and in which the UAE-based Emaar Properties is a 33 percent stakeholder.

This report was first published in Saudi Gazette on December 14, 2016

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