How do pedestrians react to automated vehicles in Switzerland?

The outcome of a pioneering project on future traffic organized in Thalwil in spring 2022 by EMPA, EBP and Fussverkehr Schweiz

Autonomous car: focus on the interaction between pedestrians and driverless cars EMPA researchers during the pilot study in Thalwil
EMPA researchers focus on the interaction between pedestrians and driverless cars during the pilot study in Thalwil
(Photo: EMPA)

EMPA, together with the company EBP and the think tank Fussverkehr Schweiz, analyzed the reaction of pedestrians to automated vehicles in the city of Thalwil in the spring of 2022.

The automatic parking assistant used in the Canton of Zurich is the first approved system in Switzerland that moves a vehicle without a person sitting inside.

The results of the research project, co-financed by AXA Foundation for Prevention, create an important basis for protective measures and design principles for sustainable road spaces.

Automated driving will shape everyday urban mobility in the future.

However, many questions are still open, such as how pedestrians will react to automated vehicles and how a sustainable and safe mobility system can be designed for all road users.

The study of the research project “Pedestrian and automated driving” (in German)

Autonomous car: the degree of automation of cars with its designation
The degree of automation of automobiles with its designation

Safety is the central element of the future interaction between road users

Il research project “Pedestrians and automated driving” provides the first answers and opens the dialogue on the interaction between automated vehicles and pedestrians, fundamental for the future.

In this first phase of the project, field studies were conducted over two test days in Thalwil to determine how pedestrians react to an automated vehicle in real situations.

To this end, parking situations have been created with a vehicle equipped with a parking assistant.

EMPA experts contributed their in-depth knowledge of vehicle technology to this social science pilot study.

“Safety was of paramount importance in the field studies. Our research team made sure the vehicle was properly equipped and was running properly.", explains Miriam Elser, researcher at EMPA.

Project manager Bettina Zahnd from EBP Switzerland also participated in the field studies: “What we noticed already on the first day of the trial is that many people react to the driverless vehicle and make eye contact with the person controlling the car.”

This figure was confirmed by the interviews: almost 70 percent of those interviewed recognized the driverless car and 60 percent saw or actively searched for the person in charge.

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The elderly, far more than the young, sought eye contact with the driver

The reactions of passers-by varied according to age.

For example, older passers-by made eye contact with the responsible person more often than younger ones.

Also, older people were more wary of new technology, while younger people assumed that the technology worked or barely impressed them.

The results also highlight a knowledge gap in the population: for only around 20 percent of the respondents, the topic of "automated driving" was not entirely new.

Many people still don't know that driverless technologies have already been approved in Switzerland.

For example, the project team recommends an information campaign as a possible measure to raise public awareness of the topic.

Another interesting aspect: about the same number of people are neutral/positive and negative towards automated vehicles.

It is clear that automated vehicles will play an ever more important role in Swiss traffic in the future and that the discussion on this topic must be stimulated already today.

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Autonomous car: the tools, cars and activities of the research project "Pedestrian and automated driving" by EMPA, EBP and Fussverkehr Schweiz
The tools, cars and activities of the research project "Pedestrian and Automated Driving" by EMPA, EBP and Fussverkehr Schweiz (Photo: EMPA)