Study: Americans Don't Trust Driverless Cars

High-profile crashes put a dent in consumer acceptance


DENVER (May 30, 2018) – Does it ever seem like each new week brings with it a new story about driverless cars behaving badly? On Tuesday, a Tesla sedan hit a parked California police cruiser while reportedly in "Autopilot" mode. Last week, Uber announced that it's  shuttering its self-driving operations in Arizona in the wake of March's fatal crash. Shucks, AAA's own autonomous shuttle service in Las Vegas was involved in a fender-bender when it launched last November -- although that one wasn't the shuttle's fault, we promise

The drumbeat of negative publicity surrounding these and other high-profile incidents has put a major dent in consumer trust in autonomous vehicle technologies, per a new report from AAA's multi-year tracking survey. Today, three-quarters of American drivers report they would be too afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle. That's up significantly from 63 percent in just late 2017. And two-thirds of American adults report they would actually feel less safe sharing the road with a self-driving vehicle while walking or riding a bicycle.

"Autonomous vehicles will one day make our roads orders of magnitude safer than they are today," said AAA spokesman Skyler McKinley. "But that day is a long way away, and consumers have high safety expectations right now -- so any incident is going to leave them shaken."

Surprisingly, AAA's latest survey found that Millennials -- the group that has been the quickest to embrace automated vehicle technologies -- were the most impacted by these incidents. The percentage of Millennial drivers too afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle has jumped from 49 percent to 64 percent since late 2017, representing the largest increase of any generation surveyed.

"There won't be widespread acceptance of autonomous vehicles until consumers are willing to trust these emerging technologies with their lives," McKinley said. "The public needs to know what vehicle manufacturers are doing to protect occupants and the motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians with whom they share the road."

AAA supports thorough testing of automated vehicle technologies as they continue to evolve, including testing under progressively complicated driving scenarios and under varying conditions, but not at the expense of safety. Additionally, to help prevent the accidental misuse of these systems, AAA advocates for a common-sense, common-nomenclature classification system, and consistent performance characteristics. 

To that end, AAA is a leading evaluator of emerging vehicle technologies. Previous testing of automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, self-parking technology, and lane-keeping systems found both great promise and a dangerous lack of standardization. Future testing will evaluate how well these systems work together to achieve higher levels of automation. 

"Autonomous vehicle manufacturers have a long way to go to earn back the public's trust," McKinley said. "Still, consumers should keep in mind that many of the technologies we arrive at on the way to a fully autonomous vehicle are already making our roads safer." 

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