From keeping you awake at the wheel, to staying in the correct lane, or at the appropriate speed limit, today’s cars are awash with tech features that only a few years ago would’ve seemed impossible.

But how do we, as motorists, feel about this technology? Are we aware of it? Do we understand it? Do we value it? How are attitudes to technology changing? After all, we’re the ones who are supposed to benefit from it.

An AA survey which attracted around 1000 responses found that first and foremost AA Members value the safety benefits of transport technology, although navigational technology is also considered important. Technology designed to reduce the driving workload or to provide entertainment is much lower on the priority list. 

AA Members aren’t technophobes, but they certainly aren’t interested in tech for tech’s sake. When asked “do you like technology?” 37% said yes, while 54% indicated that they were only interested if and when it delivered practical benefits. In general, there was much more enthusiasm for transport technology among younger people and, to a lesser extent, males.

We live in a world where almost everything can be done with a click of a button. So, why then, aren’t more Kiwis tuned in to technology in vehicles? Findings showed that the cars driven by respondents are older models – reflective of the age of the New Zealand vehicle fleet, which on average, is around 14 years.

Only 30% of survey respondents owned a vehicle five years old or newer; 30% owned a car manufactured between 2008 and 2013, 30% between 2001 and 2017 and the rest a car manufactured before 2000. It indicates that a lot of people are missing out on transport technology altogether.

More than half of the respondents didn’t have a reversing camera, two-thirds didn’t have a navigation system and features like blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control were few and far between. 

The survey also asked Members about the apps they regularly use on their smartphones. Even among the least tech-savvy age groups, the use of Google Maps, Air New Zealand and Uber is fairly common. 

App use increases with younger respondents but, surprisingly, only by a small amount. What’s clear is that most people are using transport-related apps to support their current routine, rather than looking for apps that are going to open up new lifestyle opportunities.

Privacy isn’t the barrier many would expect. When it’s a case of Government agencies accessing personal data to deliver collective transport benefits – for example, using locational data from mobile phones to help address congestion – people are, by and large, comfortable. But we are a lot less comfortable with data being made available to big corporates like Amazon, Apple and Facebook, particularly when technology like face and voice recognition is involved.

Surprisingly, there was a lot of discomfort with the role that social media giants play, even among younger age groups. A quarter of females aged between 18 and 24 said they avoided Facebook and Instagram due to privacy concerns, while half said they put up with it even though they find it a bit creepy.

We couldn’t discuss transport technology without mention of autonomous vehicles, so the survey included a question on Members’ willingness to ride in a driverless car (we posed the same question in an AA survey two years ago).

Responses indicated that trust in driverless technology could be sliding. It found that only 35% of people would be willing to let a computer take the wheel, compared to 44% in 2017.  There was a widespread view among respondents that the technology was still too unproven to be trusted, while many stressed that they still really enjoyed driving themselves.

Recent airline disasters involving automated technology, and possibly
the fatal crashes that have occurred during Uber and Tesla’s driverless vehicle trials, may have factored into people’s thinking.

When it comes to driverless cars, the public is getting sick of the hype. If the Government wants New Zealanders to engage, it may need to focus attention on what’s realistic in the short term and not on futuristic Jetsons-like scenarios. Getting behind practical trials of automated technology is an excellent way to do this.

For policy-makers, all of this is an important reminder of just what a hard task they face to get people enthused about transport technology. Given the limited public appetite, the Government needs to do more to make safety features mandatory on vehicles (both new and used) that enter the country.

There’s also important work to be done now to make sure our infrastructure – road markings, signs, locational systems, and communications – is ready for the new technology that’s in the pipeline, even if it’s going to be a while before most people use it. 

Reported by Barney Irvine for our AA Directions Summer 2019 issue

More information

The AA’s Transport Technology Group serves to inform the AA and its Members on where technological change is taking the transport system.

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