The societal dimension of the automated vehicles transition: Towards a research agenda

Automated vehicles (AVs) are often presented by popular media, automotive and technology companies as an inevitable reality of the near future associated with a positive revolution in individual mobility (e.g. increased road safety, reduced congestion, less travel time cost). However, thus far, research has focused predominantly on technical and operational aspects as well as on short-term implications (e.g. traffic flow) of the automated vehicles transition.

An introduction of AVs driven solely by the technology and business development might ignore the socio-technical nature of the transport system and thus be in conflict with planning objectives such as the promotion of public and non-motorized transport, the reduction of negative externalities of motorized transport and the development of a healthy and socially inclusive transport system.

Our new paper presents a research agenda on the societal dimension of the AVs transition.

We identify key research shifts from the mainstream transport literature to more interdisciplinary approaches that would contribute to a more comprehensive and holistic exploration of the societal dimension of the AV transition. We adopt the social construction of technology approach, suggesting that technology and society are involved in a dialectical process over time that constructs each other. We draw from the multi-level perspective (MLP) of technological transition to identify three key dynamics of the societal dimension of AVs transition and suggest three key research shifts on the societal acceptance, societal implications and governance of AVs (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The identified key dynamics (i.e. societal acceptance, societal implications, governance) of the societal dimension of the technology transition towards AVs and their relationships with the MLP (niches, regime, socio-technical landscape).

Shift 1: From consumers' adoption to citizens' acceptance of introduction of AVs.

Citizens, contrary to consumers, (a) may be users of the new mobility technologies or not, (b) are sufficiently informed about societal benefits and adverse effects of AVs, and (c) are not narrowly self-interested rational agents but can act for the common good.   

Shift 2: From short- to long-term societal implications of AVs.

These implications comprise accessibility, subjective well-being (i.e. satisfaction with travel and life), objective well-being (i.e. energy/air pollution, physical activity, safety) and subsequently social inclusion and public health (see Figure 2).

Shift 3: From exploratory scenarios to participative anticipatory governance of desirable AV futures.

Such shift could be achieved through normative scenarios and participatory technology assessment methods supporting state’s new role in balancing AVs deployment against the goals of citizens’ desirable futures.

Figure 2: The conceptual model of the long-term societal implications of AVs.  

The published article is available here. A post-print of the article is available here.

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