Nearly Three Quarters Of Americans Are ‘Afraid’ Of Self-Driving Vehicles, Study Finds

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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2018 was a bad year for the reputation of self-driving cars, following the fatal incident involving an automated Uber test car in Tempe, Arizona. As a result, fewer Americans trust a self-driving car than before.

According to a new AAA study, 71 percent of Americans are “afraid” of self-driving cars. This is up from 63 percent of those surveyed by AAA just a year before.

However, the study did find that exposure to Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) did improve drivers’ outlook. If drivers were comfortable with one of four ADAS systems, including lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, auto emergency braking, and self-parking, they were 68 percent more likely to trust a self-driving vehicle.

The Future Is Now Or Soon

Engineers from auto manufacturers and technology suppliers are not-driving countless miles gathering data before anything is ready for public consumption.

 

Additionally, 53 percent of Americans surveyed were unworried about automated vehicles being used in low-speed short-distance transport. Think airport and amusement park shuttles. That number dropped to 20 percent, when asked if they were comfortable with self-driving vehicles transporting loved ones.

As a part of its annual self-driving technology study, AAA also asks respondents about the timeline of the commonality of self-driving cars. Half think that by 2029 “half” of cars will have the ability to drive themselves.

That last figure is likely ambitious. That is, unless respondents were referring to the percentage of cars on sale, rather than those on the roadways. Given that the average vehicle on the road today is 11 years old, getting to a national fleet of which 50 percent is capable of driving itself will take many decades.

While this increase in the distrust of self-driving cars is worrying, it is certainly understandable. If the only news drivers read about self-driving technology is negative, they’re understandably going to perceive them more negatively as well.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. ADAS is becoming more common all the time. In fact, 20 automakers have agreed to make auto emergency braking (AEB) standard on all the cars they sell by 2022.

If they stick to it, that means that millions more Americans will gain experience with at least one ADAS. And going by the AAA survey, that means they’ll be 50 percent more likely to trust the automated driving tech. At that rate, though, it’ll be a slow road to turn around perceptions.

Trust Has To Be Earned

Ford is expanding to become the first company to test autonomous vehicles in Washington, D.C., according to the district, by establishing a self-driving vehicle business – a business that will be responsive to the needs of the city and its residents.

 

Rather than waiting for every American to buy a new car with an automated driving technology, the silver bullet might well be an automated shuttle. That’s because we get far more opportunities to ride in publicly accessible transportation than we do to buy a new car.

Think about it. If you are shuttled around in a self-driving box every time you, say, take a Delta flight or visit Disney Land and nothing goes wrong, when the same technology that drives those shuttles is offered in your new car, you’ll be more likely to be comfortable with it.

Branching out from there, once we’re OK with moving around airports in automated shuttles, then we’ll be more accustom to moving around cities in these similar vehicles — ones operated by Uber or Lyft, let’s say.

There’s going to be a tipping point in public perception of the safety of these vehicles. Likely, the self-driving technology needs to become a regular-ish part of our daily lives before Americans accept it in their own cars.

Just like with electric scooters that seemed to come out of nowhere, automated vehicles owned and operated by companies might suddenly become ubiquitous. So, that tipping point might not be as far off as some imagine.


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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