Driving to work can sometimes be stressful, as can the drive home after a long day. And in those moments we all wish that we could just switch off and relax.
Well, the answer could be closer to reality than you think, in the form of self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles (AVs).
However, there are many technological and ethical issues that come with the development and rollout of AVs (not to mention the implications for car insurance).
Some countries are more prepared for the rollout of AVs than others, but which nations are the readiest?
By taking into account factors including legislation, technology, consumer interest and infrastructure, we can reveal which countries are most prepared for autonomous vehicles, using an AV Readiness score.
Top five AV ready countries
1. USA, AV readiness score: 8.62/10
By far the most AV ready country is the USA, which achieved a score of 8.62. The US has the most companies pioneering AV technology, as well as by far the most patents and public EV chargers.
The US scores so highly due to the fact that it was the top ranking nation for both AV companies and patents.
A number of companies such as Tesla that are well known for AVs are based in the United States.
2. Japan, AV readiness score: 7.59/10
Japan has often been a nation at the forefront of new technologies. Japanese cars were the first to be fitted with satellite navigation systems and they’re often filled with electronic gizmos.
So, it’s unsurprising that Japan is one of the most AV ready countries. Japan ranks in the top four nations for road quality, AV patents, and AV companies.
These consistently high scores across the majority of factors ensure that Japan comes in second place.
3. France, AV readiness score: 7.37/10
France is the third most AV ready country with a score of 7.37 and ranks in the top ten for almost every category, including AV patents and companies.
Last year, a French company became the first to run a fully autonomous vehicle on a public road in Europe, with a driverless bus running at a Toulouse medical campus.
4. United Kingdom, AV readiness score: 6.92/10
In fourth place is the United Kingdom. The UK being one of the best scoring countries when it comes to the number of AV companies headquartered in the country (5). These include Wayve, a London-based AV tech company and Oxbotica, an AV software company from Oxford.
The UK is currently working on legislation to allow self-driving cars to operate at up to 37 mph. This legislation aims to make them road legal later this year according to the Department for Transport.
5. Germany, AV readiness score: 6.74/10
A country that’s leading the way in terms of AV patents (over 13,000) and infrastructure for EVs (537 per million people), Germany earns fifth place.
Last year Germany became the first country in the world to allow autonomous vehicles on the road without requiring a human behind the wheel.
The countries leading the way in each category
So, having revealed the most AV-prepared nations overall, which countries performed the best in each of the seven categories that were analysed?
Legislation: Germany, Japan, USA
Three countries scored the maximum of 4/4 for legislation. These are the only nations that legally allow AVs on the road in more than a testing capacity.
Other countries such as New Zealand and the UK technically do permit AVs but in practice, other restrictions would likely prevent them from being used.
Company headquarters and investment in them: USA
The USA has by far the most companies that work on AV technology, with a lot of investment behind them too.
In total there are 50 in the country. This 39 more than second-placed country Israel, and 47 more than the average. The UK has the third-highest number with just five.
AV patents: USA
As well as having the most AV companies, the USA also has by far the most AV-related patents issued.
There are 127,570 in the US, over 100,000 more than South Korea which ranks second with 25,861. Japan comes third with 21,242 patents.
The average number of AV related patents is 7,111 across the nations, over 120,000 fewer than in the US.
Public interest: Chile
Public interest in AVs has increased the most in Chile over the past year. There was a 22.1% increase in AV-related Google searches in the country, rising from 12,780 in 2020 to 15,600 in 2021.
Latin America is some way behind the rest of the world for AV preparedness. But interest in Chile has perhaps been on the rise as it’s the only country in the area to have tested AVs so far.
Slovakia has the second-highest increase in interest with a 20.8% rise, and Spain ranked third, where AV searches rose by 18.9%.
Road quality: The Netherlands
The Netherlands also tops the rankings for the quality of its roads. Out of ten, the Dutch road network scores 6.4, which is 1.38 higher than the average score of 5.02.
Switzerland has the second-highest scoring roads with a 6.3, and Japan comes third with a score of 6.1.
Alex Kindred, car insurance expert at Confused.com, comments:
“The idea of owning an AV is arguably both intriguing and exciting, especially with the thought of being able to sit back and relax on a long drive.
“AVs won't drink, text, become tired or distracted, and so the adoption of autonomous vehicles has the potential to make our roads much safer.
“However, in recent years there have been a series of technological and ethical issues linked to the rollout of AVs. These include system hacking and a lack of clarity when it comes to moral dilemmas, such as accidents.
“It’s important to note that such issues, as well as the high manufacturing costs of AV’s, could impact car insurance prices. So when the time comes be sure to factor in these costs when considering buying a self-driving car."
Each OECD country was analysed on the following factors, giving each nation a normalised score out of ten for each factor, before taking an average across each of the scores.
Note that Colombia, Costa Rica, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Mexico were removed due to a lack of available data.
Policy & Legislation
AV Regulations - Scored on a simple scale. 4 = legislation / approval in place to drive AVs, 3 = legislation / approval in place to drive AVs, but with significant caveats, 2 = legislation / approval in place for testing AVs, 1 = legislation in development, 0 = nothing in place / in development).
Details of policies were found on either government websites or news articles. View the full list of sources.
Technology & Innovation
AV Company Headquarters - The number of autonomous vehicle startups headquartered in the country according to Crunchbase.
AV Patents - The number of patents filed for autonomous vehicles according to Espacenet.
Google search increases - the number of global searches for ‘autonomous cars in 2021 compared to the same searches in 2020, using Google Ads Keyword Planner.
Road Quality - The quality of the roads in the country, on a scale of 1 to 7, according to TheGlobalEconomy.com.