Survey: Americans Still Afraid of Self-Driving Cars

Just 14 percent would ride in a fully automated vehicle 


DENVER (Feb. 25, 2021) - The long-promised, fully automated car of the future will get here eventually, although lukewarm consumer sentiment will present significant adoption challenges for automakers and tech companies. That's the takeaway from AAA's annual automated vehicle survey, which found that 54 percent of Americans are afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle, while 32 percent say they're unsure about the technology - roughly unchanged from last year's results.

"As with any new technology, the roll-out of a fully self-driving fleet requires consumer trust, buy-in, and interest," said Skyler McKinley, regional director of public affairs for AAA. "We're just not seeing that yet, although our research is clear that people are ready to embrace new vehicle technology if they think it will make driving safer."

"Fix What You Have"
Only 22 percent of people feel that manufacturers should focus on developing self-driving vehicles. The majority, 80 percent, say they want current vehicle safety systems, such as automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance, to work better. Importantly, more than half - 58 percent - said they want these systems in their next vehicle. 

"There's good news for automakers, here," McKinley said. "Consumers are clear about what they want. If automakers and their tech partners work to fine-tune existing technology to provide a better experience now, that will bring about the vehicles of tomorrow."

Nearly 96 percent of 2020 vehicle models came equipped with at least one advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, or lane-keeping assistance. Consumers who buy new, then, will likely interact with at least one type of new vehicle technology.

Previous AAA research has found that some systems, particularly those that provide the highest level of automation available to the public, do not always work as expected. These negative experiences could influence driver opinion of future vehicle automation. They also reinforce the need for manufacturers to continue to hone vehicle technology by expanding testing to include real-world scenarios encountered by drivers. 

COVID-19 Has Little Impact
AAA also asked drivers if COVID-19 would influence their decision to use a self-driving vehicle as an alternative to public transportation or ride-hailing. The majority, 42 percent, said COVID-19 made no difference in their opinion on self-driving vehicles as an alternative to public transportation - while 41 percent said the same thing with regard to ride-hailing services. 

The Likely Future
While fully self-driving vehicles are still years away from consumer availability, we're at an important crossroads: As testing on public roads expands, and as new safety features are included as standard on many vehicles, drivers are interacting often with the core technology of the car of the future.

To build consumer acceptance, industry actors need to be transparent and accurate in how they market and discuss self-driving technology - something they routinely fail to do

"Smartphones became ubiquitous as their manufacturers worked to improve and perfect existing features, instead of promising that the tech would completely change the world overnight," McKinley said. "There is a lesson there for anybody claiming their self-driving car is right around the corner. Focus on the fundamentals first, build trust, and you'll lead the way into the future."

The survey was conducted January 15-17, 2021, using a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. household population overall. The panel provides sample coverage of approximately 97% of the U.S. household population. Most surveys were completed online; consumers without Internet access were surveyed over the phone. A total of 1,010 interviews were completed among U.S. adults, 18 years of age or older. The margin of error for the study overall is 4% at the 95% confidence level. Smaller subgroups have larger error margins. 

About AAA – The Auto Club Group
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