This study investigates the perceived safety of passengers while being on board of a driverless shuttle without a steward present. The aim of the study is to draw conclusions on factors that influence and contribute to perceived safety of passengers in driverless shuttles. For this, four different test rides were conducted, representing aspects that might challenge passengers’ perceived safety once driverless shuttles become part of public transport: passengers had to ride the shuttle on their own (without a steward present), had to interact with another passenger, and had to react to two different unexpected technical difficulties. Passengers were then asked what had influenced their perceived safety and what would contribute to it. Results show that perceived safety of passengers was high across all different test rides. The most important factors influencing the perceived safety of passengers were the shuttle’s driving style and passengers’ trust in the technology. The driving style was increasingly less important as the passengers gained experience with the driverless shuttle. Readily available contact with someone in a control room would significantly contribute to an increase in perceived safety while riding a driverless shuttle. For researchers, as well as technicians in the field of autonomous driving, our findings could inform the design and set-up of driverless shuttles in order to increase perceived safety; for example, how to signal passengers that there is always the possibility of contact to someone in a control room. Reacting to these concerns and challenges will further help to foster acceptance of AVs in society. Future research should explore our findings in an even more natural setting, e.g., a controlled mixed traffic environment.
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