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Motorists fear driverless cars will end road etiquette

Three quarters think autonomous cars could misinterpret polite driving habits

family crossing road

Driverless cars could spell the end of common courtesy on the roads, according to a new survey from uSwitch.

Common courtesy

Three quarters (75%) of motorists believe autonomous vehicles could misinterpret the unwritten rules of the road adhered to by many human drivers. More than half of drivers (51%) fear driverless cars will misunderstand the intentions of a driver flashing their headlights to say thank you. Almost a third (32%) say driverless cars will not let other cars out of side streets and 28% feel they will not be considerate to pedestrians.

Rod Jones, insurance expert at uSwitch, said: “The unwritten rules of the road are part of the polite British driving experience but could be a huge blind spot for autonomous vehicles. Flashing your lights to let someone out of a junction may seem obvious, but these courteous gestures can vary from situation to situation and add the human touch to motoring.

Dangerous habits

According to the survey, 70% of drivers feel driverless cars could initially cause accidents and delays by sticking too rigidly to road rules.

However, many road users are hopeful that autonomous vehicle technology could eliminate bad habits on the roads, such as tailgating (59%), cutting up other drivers (42%), and forgetting to indicate (41%).

Highway code

Many drivers also feel that the Highway Code needs to be updated to keep up with new technology. The current requirement for drivers to have both hands on the wheel should be changed according to 42% of drivers, while 33% feel rules surrounding sat navs and distractions should be updated.

The government is currently completing a consultation looking into the Highway Code and how it should be adapted in the world of autonomous vehicles and other technology.

Jones said: “The Highway Code was created to promote safer driving, but over the years we have developed our own human driving code. It is clear that many drivers don’t expect driverless cars to understand our driving habits, which could, certainly to begin with, make it difficult for humans and robots to drive side by side.

“For British drivers to feel safe on the roads, they need to be confident about how a driverless car will react in any given situation. Clarifying the rules in the Highway Code is an important step towards this.”

Top 5 unwritten road rules

The uSwitch survey asked respondents which courteous road habits driverless cars are most likely to misunderstand:

1. Flashing your headlights to say thank you, you’re welcome or go ahead (51%)
2. Moving aside for emergency services (35%)
3. Letting drivers out of side streets (32%)
4. Being considerate to pedestrians on the pavement (28%)
5. Using the horn to alert a fellow driver to a situation up ahead (26%)