The Average American is Seriously Afraid of Autonomous Cars: Study

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
the average american is seriously afraid of autonomous cars study

There is something uncanny about a car that can drive itself. If you transplanted the world’s first motorists into a modern autonomous vehicle and let it lose on a track, they’d probably surmise witchcraft as the only plausible explanation and jump out in terror. Humans are innately distrustful of anything unfamiliar — it’s an important part of our survival strategy as a species. With that in mind, it isn’t surprising to hear that many Americans are a little wary of self-driving cars.

However, a recent study from the American Automobile Association suggests it might be more serious than that. The vast majority of surveyed Americans admitted to being “afraid” of riding in an autonomous vehicle while over half said they felt less safe at the prospect of sharing the road with driverless technology. This isn’t likely to be welcome news for automakers, considering that every major manufacturer is currently investing heavily into the computer and industrial sciences required to make autonomous tech possible.

“A great race towards autonomy is underway and companies are vying to introduce the first driverless cars to our roadways,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations. “However, while U.S. drivers are eager to buy vehicles equipped with autonomous technology, they continue to fear a fully self-driving vehicle.”

Taking a random sampling of 1,012 adults, AAA found that 78 percent of American drivers surveyed reported feelings of fear at the mere concept of being a passenger in a self-driving vehicle. Obviously, older generations were more likely to be apprehensive but even 73 percent of the 18- to 36-year-old demographic said it was a scary idea. Women were also far more likely to be afraid than men.

The responses are a little less overwhelmingly negative when participants were asked about sharing the road with computer-controlled cars. Only 54 percent of the U.S. drivers said they felt “less safe” when conceptualizing cruising beside self-driving vehicles. However, only 10 percent claimed they’d feel reassured knowing those vehicles were in the mix.

The silver lining for automakers is that most people still actively want self-driving technology as an option on future cars. While Baby Boomers and Generation X were almost fifty-fifty on the issue, 70 percent of Millennials were keen on the notion.

However, AAA performed a similar round of cold calling in 2016 that yielded almost identical figures — meaning someone needs to educate consumers on the effectiveness of emerging vehicle technologies. By and large, every study on current and future autonomous features seems to underscore added safety. Human error in the streets costs lives and not every motorist takes the same level of care to be a good driver. If the car can pick up some of the slack that a bad driver leaves behind, it probably should, but nobody will bother if they don’t trust and understand the technology.

[Image: Tesla Motors]

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  • TR4 TR4 on Mar 09, 2017

    The "Average American" has approximately one testicle and approximately one ovary.

  • Bikegoesbaa Bikegoesbaa on Mar 09, 2017

    The average American also believes in angels, so I don't know that I should take their input on autonomous transportation seriously.

  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.
  • Master Baiter "I like the Earth."The idea that modern combustion engines are incompatible with the ongoing survival of the Earth, or of humanity, is breathtakingly stupid. Climate alarmism is akin to a religion--one to which I do not subscribe.
  • Skippity Key takeaways.Toyota is run by competent businessmen.Art doesn’t like Toyota.
  • MaintenanceCosts Audi has been a full player in the German luxury club for 20 years. It started to get there with the first A4, which was a 500-foot home run, and then achieved full recognition with the spectacular D3 A8.