By on September 19, 2017

Fictional Autonomous Ford in Super Bowl Commercial

There’s nothing that will convince me that the first wave of autonomous taxis will be anything other than mobile biohazards, providing a slightly less convenient solution to paying a man to let you ride in the back of his Toyota Camry for a few miles. However, I will give them a shot once they arrive — mainly out of curiosity, which puts me in the minority.

Gartner Inc., an American research and advisory firm that works specifically within the realm of advanced technologies, recently completed a survey where over half of its respondents said there was no way in hell they’d get into the back of a fully autonomous vehicle. Its findings echo an American-based MIT study from earlier this year, as well as a global survey from Deloitte. The consensus: most of the population doesn’t feel particularly good about self-driving cars.

Not to be a defender of unproven technology, but there’s also nothing stopping a human cab driver from driving you to the wrong destination before trying to murder you with an axe. It doesn’t happen often, but it is a possibility. Likewise, autonomous cabs pose some element of risk no matter how good a job manufacturers do with those early models. But you’re not likely to be the occupant of the one that does goes haywire. It’s a problem of perception more than anything else. 

“The top concern for passengers is that the vehicle will get confused in complex situations,” Gartner consultant Mike Ramsey said in an interview with Automotive News. “The big challenge for automakers is that they’ll have to create an interface that allows people to have control.”

The Gartner survey framed the hypothetical vehicle for respondents as a Level 5 autonomous taxi with no driver, steering wheel, brake pedal, or accelerator. This was an important factor, as the perceived lack of control was faulted as the primary cause for the public’s skittishness.

Customers want the option of control, even in something that’s designed to not give them any. Visteon says the key to alleviating stress is to give consumers enough information and agency to feel involved without overwhelming them. A visual interface that showed the car’s systems functioning properly would go a long way — even if passengers don’t fully understand them.

“You want to take the tension and nervousness out of the experience,”said Tim Yerdon, Visteon’s global marketing director.

Another chief concern is the level of control customers would be allowed to have. Practically every survey indicates that drivers who have cars equipped with some level of autonomy are more willing to trust a fully self-driving vehicle. While the Gartner survey only reached out to 1,500 people in the U.S. and Germany, Deloitte contacted 22,000 respondents worldwide. Both indicate that the best approach to easing fears is the gradual implementation of autonomy and in-car controls that would allow passengers to change their destination or order the car to pull over.

Manufacturers should pay careful attention to these studies and use them as a framework for field testing, especially those that want to ditch things like steering wheels and brake pedals (ahem, Ford). We’ve seen no survey, as of yet, that doesn’t indicate at least 55 to 75 percent of their respective samples having serious reservations about self-driving cars. Those numbers weren’t helped when you start hypothetically taking away people’s ability to regain control of the situation when they choose. 

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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34 Comments on “Autonomous Cars Make People Uncomfortable – What Can Manufacturers Do About It?...”

  • avatar

    Govt thinks self driving cars are good. And govt is always right. You have nothing to fear, we promise.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that

  • avatar

    I will never ride in any vehicle sans a driver. In my younger years I have been a passenger in vehicles driven by people that shouldn’t have been behind the wheel.

    I figure I’ve played the odds, and won..These days I don’t gamble with my life.

    Excuse me, while I kick some kids off my lawn.

  • avatar

    “Visteon says the key to alleviating stress is to give consumers enough information and agency to feel involved without overwhelming them. A visual interface that showed the car’s systems functioning properly would go a long way — even if passengers don’t fully understand them.”

    Really? So a series of green LEDs is enough to reassure people but actual data from safety testing isn’t enough?

    • 0 avatar

      It is not that the data doesn’t show that overall it is safe it is about knowing whether the vehicle you are in at that moment in time is functioning properly. So yeah I can see that for some consumers a display that indicates all systems functioning properly would help alleviate fear.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Why wouldn’t self driving cars still not have someone behind the wheel? Even many types of train/subway that largely run themselves still have a human in the cab.

    • 0 avatar

      Self driving cars will start out being much more expensive than other cars. The justification for paying more for the vehicle will be to eliminate the labor cost of having a driver.

  • avatar

    People were freaked out by non-autonomous cars, too. Because they were used to horses. They got over it, because (for most people) cars are a better way to get around than horses are.

    The first audiences for “moving pictures” got spooked and fled the theater en masse. They were used to books. They got over it, because (for most people) movies > books.

    Once upon a time people thought that taking their photo would steal their soul. They got over it too.

    Etc, etc.

    Autonomous car manufacturers don’t need to “do” anything but provide a better alternative to old-timey cars. I bet a lot of this “I’ll never travel a mile in a robo-car, get off my lawn” talk will go by the wayside as soon as somebody can sell the public a car that is:
    1) demonstrably safer than human drivers
    2) legally able to transport people around while everybody inside is napping, reading, watching TV, and/or intoxicated

    I can prove that the demand for this already exists, because wealthy people employ chauffeurs.

    • 0 avatar

      Unless these autonomous cars can exceed 40 rods to the hogshead, I’m going right back to yelling at clouds.

    • 0 avatar

      The article is talking about how best to implement autonomous vehicles because studies show the public is skittish. So you’re probably right to say eventually it will be accepted, but you’re skipping past the article’s premise.

      And yes, wealthy people employ human chauffeurs. And people ride in buses and planes operated by other people. Plenty of people are passengers when other humans drive (everyone in a car who is not in the front-left seat). It’s putting total trust in technology that spooks people. I suspect this would be less of an issue if ALL vehicles on the road were autonomous. The problem with implementation is technology overcoming the complexities of human behavior (ie., the crazy stuff other human drivers do every day).

    • 0 avatar

      It is not true that for most people, movies are better than books.

      Movies are DIFFERENT than books, that’s all. And eventually, people began to realize that different did NOT mean worse.

      That’s all this is. “Ooooo, it’s different, it must be worse!”–the cry of the average Joe.*

      *unless it’s phone technology, in which case Joe cries the opposite. In neither case is Joe right.

  • avatar

    Manufacturers simply can refuse to make them! what a concept.

  • avatar

    “Autonomous Cars Make People Uncomfortable – What Can Manufacturers Do About It?”

    Build autonomous cars. That doesn’t make people uncomfortable. Ditto for teleportation devices. And, more down to earth, right to carry gun laws “allowing all THOSE people to carry guns.”

    SciFi is always going to make people uncomfortable.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Visteon says the key to alleviating stress is to give consumers enough information and agency to feel involved without overwhelming them.”

    That’s only part of it.

    Before I buy an AV, I want to know who’s getting sued when my vehicle crashes, or is crashed into. Guess what – it’s always gonna be the driver.

    I don’t care what Volvo claims, they ain’t writing blank checks when their AV kills someone.

  • avatar

    Money talks. People will quickly get over their fear of autonomous cars when a cab/uber ride costs significantly less when choosing the driverless option.

  • avatar

    This was the reaction to elevators with no person operating them. Vancouver has a driverless train system that has been running since 1986 with no collisions.

    I recently had a ride in a Tesla in downtown traffic in fully autonomous mode. Yup, I was nervous about it. But I think it will just take proof of safety and getting used to it.

    Meanwhile the subject makes good clickbait.

    • 0 avatar

      Couldn’t have thought of better cases of false equivalencies if I tried.

      Anything running on rails (elevator, subway/electric train) is a constrained system with strictly limited traffic, i.e, none or not much. Road vehicles are not the same, don’t have defined station stops unless they’re buses, rely on carried fuel/electrons for motive power rather than external sources, run on surfaces with bumps, different coefficients of friction that vary not only with weather but road surface, have random pedestrians in cities, and occasionally meet construction workers or policeman who each seem to have invented their own personal hand signals for when it’s safe to stop and go.

      I’m reminded that the original astronauts were quite often test pilots, and were annoyed as hell to find out that their ride in a Mercury capsule was pre-programmed from start to finish, leaving them in the lab rat position. As millions of us will soon be, but being generally stupid will discount the crappiness of first generation sensors and programming while waving gaily at the crowd and enjoying their roboribe.

      You first.

  • avatar

    As you drive through your day tomorrow, look at the cars around you and the people occupying the seat with the steering wheel in front of it. Observe the behaviors.

    I don’t know about you, but I’d rather put my life in the hands of Google than most of those people.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision


      Seeing an inattentive driver/VW Golf full of chatting young women/Honda with a hood scoop and several NOS stickers all over it – these are things we can notice and avoid when in control of our cars. Your vaunted Google cannot do the same. You don’t care, though: you’d rather be ensconced in a Google Pod, looking at your device, and generating content for your Digital Overlord.

      You’re fired.

      Get outta town.


      • 0 avatar

        Well, my point was I’d rather have Google drive me around than any one of those people who are passengers who happen to be behind the wheel. I’m safer in a Google car than in their cars.

  • avatar

    Those two should be making sweet, hot, sticky love, kama sutra style!

    Her only her ankles should visit le be above the dashtop!

    Dude is a beta-cuck!

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    I think I’d be okay with an autonomous vehicle if it had the option of manual override like the cars in Demolition Man (or I, Robot for the youngsters)
    But, my position is (this was written down ~40 years ago already by various American and Russian sci-fi authors) that mixing old with the new does not work. Autonomous cars will be safe only if there are ONLY self-driving cars on the road. Legislate all other vehicles off public roads.
    Then I will have a modicum of peace, laced with doubt and suspicion about our new machine overlords ;)

  • avatar

    What can manufacturers do about it?

    Every autonomous vehicle should be, by law, required to carry a large rotating red light on top (“gumball machine”), and be painted in bright, alternating, black and yellow stripes.

    Now the humans can identify them, and get out of the way.

    By the way, autonomous vehicles have existed for years indoors as part of AS/RS systems in manufacturing plants and hospitals. They ALWAYS carry this kind of warning signals so people know they’re coming and can get out of the way.

    I think it’s weird that I have never read a similar comment/suggestion from anyone else.

  • avatar

    “Mobile bio hazards” as in people sweating profusely and breaking wind as anxiety levels rise? I fully agree. But there’s an element that is structurally being ignored by the industry, incl. Elon Musk. You don’t feel particularly comfortable having a car auto-pilot itself that is as wide as you are tall and in which you tend t lose any sense of the car’s outer dimensions. There’s a reason why Google (Waymo) started out with the compact two-seater in which there’s excellent visibility, that was introduced 4-5 years ago.

  • avatar

    A solution was presented in the film Total Recall. Remember Johnny Cab? That was a self driving car that had an animatronic replica of a human cab driver as the user interface for the passenger.

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