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The advent of new technology has undoubtedly spurred a new era for driving. But while the concept of the connected car and the adoption of new fuel technologies such as electric and hydrogen fuel cells have been met by open minds, autonomous vehicles have provoked significant debate.

As the technology accelerates, adoption is now a key topic of discussion for fleet decision-makers, but what do company vehicle drivers themselves think?

Lex Autolease’s annual study of UK company car drivers discovered that the pace of change is still a concern for many.  

The spring Budget announced a £270 million investment fund for ‘disruptive technologies’ including driverless cars, on top of the £100 million set aside in last year’s Autumn Statement to build new vehicle testing sites.

We’ve also seen manufacturers announce plans to trial their prototypes and even non-automotive players like Google embark on their own forays into driverless tech.

With government backing and most, if not all, major manufacturers investing heavily in the technology, we are moving towards a time when autonomous vehicles will be a practical and commonly accessible option for fleet decision-makers.

Despite growing investment, our research revealed that last year saw just a 1.3% rise in support for the technology from company car drivers, with nearly half of those surveyed opposing fully autonomous vehicles.

In direct contrast, the number of fleet decision-makers who expect to see driverless cars on our roads within 10 years has jumped by 17% year-on-year.

The findings show that there is still a disconnect between fleet decision-makers and the employees who will inevitably be operating these vehicles.

Our research revealed that although most drivers embrace partial autonomous features that can improve safety, such as automatic braking systems that take over when the vehicle detects an imminent accident, they are considerably less comfortable with the idea of relinquishing control entirely.

What’s needed is a culture shift as drivers learn to hand over the responsibility of driving to a machine.

There will inevitably be a period where employees are unsure what is expected of them or what they need to do in certain circumstances. This will be especially true as new legislative frameworks come in to play and these risks need to be carefully managed in the transition alongside providing education and training.

While the reality of driverless vehicles is close, how quickly these new technologies are adopted by fleets, and drivers more broadly, will depend on price and availability, driver attitudes, and most importantly the introduction of appropriate legislative infrastructure.

Given the pace of change, regular driver training and continually updating driver policies will be crucial for fleets to stay on-top of technological advances, and manage the behavioural shift towards autonomous vehicles.

Lauren Pamma is head of consultancy at Lex Autolease