In Wake of Crashes, Public Confidence in Self-driving Cars Pulls a U-Turn

in wake of crashes public confidence in self driving cars pulls a u turn

Following a Wild West-like expansion in autonomous vehicle testing, coupled with years of rosy predictions from automakers and Silicon Valley types, the public seemed ready to embrace self-driving cars with open arms.

Opinion polls showed significant distrust in the technology, but least among young adults, the idea of self-driving cars remained a popular one. That’s changed, apparently.

According to an ongoing tracking study conducted by the American Automobile Association, public perception of self-driving vehicles took a major hit in the wake of highly reported accidents involving autonomous vehicles.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. As self-piloted vehicles leave the realm of TED talks and urban planning fantasies and enter the real world, deficiencies and faults inevitable crop up. The dangers of unperfected technology are laid bare.

In AAA’s survey of just over 1,000 adults, 73 percent of American drivers said they would refuse to ride in a self-driving car. That’s up from the 63 percent recorded in a similar survey late last year. Of the respondents, 63 percent say they would feel less safe sharing the road with AVs as a pedestrian or cyclist.

Chalk much of the about-face up to the fatal March collision between an autonomous Volvo XC90 operated by Uber Technologies and a 49-year-old pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. In that incident, the Uber vehicle failed to react after encountering Elaine Herzberg walking her bike across a darkened street. The company suspended testing in the wake of the collision. Recently, a report surfaced stating that the vehicle’s onboard sensors recognized the pedestrian, but choose to ignore what it thought was a “false positive.”

Certainly, the fatal crash of a Tesla in Mountain View, California in late March didn’t do anything to improve the public’s perception of autonomous technology (even though the vehicle’s Autopilot features can’t be classified as such. Well, not anymore).

“Despite their potential to make our roads safer in the long run, consumers have high expectations for safety,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “Our results show that any incident involving an autonomous vehicle is likely to shake consumer trust, which is a critical component to the widespread acceptance of autonomous vehicles.”

Millennials, always quick to embrace new technologies, seem spooked by the incidents. In the latest survey, Millennial-aged respondents pulled the largest U-turn of any demographic, with 64 percent saying they’d be too afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle. That’s up from 49 percent in late 2017.

“While autonomous vehicles are being tested, there’s always a chance that they will fail or encounter a situation that challenges even the most advanced system,” said Megan Foster, AAA’s director of Federal Affairs. “To ease fears, there must be safeguards in place to protect vehicle occupants and the motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians with whom they share the road.”

Well, yes. It’s looking more and more likely that a standardization of required autonomous hardware lies on the horizon, rather than today’s hodge-podge of radar, lidar, and cameras. We’ve seen drawbacks ranging from preventable death to rider inconvenience (check out this video of a Waymo minivan trying, and failing, to merge) since the onset of real-world testing, and the public’s watching. It seems they don’t like what they see.

[Image: Waymo]

Join the conversation
2 of 16 comments
  • Bloodnok Bloodnok on May 22, 2018

    i'm with those leery of robotic automobiles. i was nearly sideswiped by a baidu robot (a black lincoln) when i was riding my bike along cañada road in the bay area. thing came right across the solid white line marking the bike lane as it passed me. and on a straight road. i was underwhelmed. but there's nowhere one can report these unwanted close encounters. the dmv's site is useless on that account.

  • Dantes_inferno Dantes_inferno on May 23, 2018

    This is part of SKYNET's diabolical plan to coerce humans into autonomous vehicles - and send the command to override all safety features and exterminate all humans by locking the doors and driving the vehicles into walls, each other, or off the nearest cliff. DO NOT TRUST AUTONOMOUS VEHCILES! You have been warned!!!

  • 285exp I am quite sure that it is a complete coincidence that they have announced a $7k price increase the same week that the current administration has passed legislation extending the $7k tax credit that was set to expire. Yep, not at all related.
  • Syke Is it possible to switch the pure EV drive on and off? Given the wonderful throttle response of an EV, I could see the desirability of this for a serious off-roader. Run straight ICE to get to your off-roading site, switch over the EV drive during the off-road section, then back to ICE for the road trip back home.
  • ToolGuy Historical Perspective Moment:• First-gen Bronco debuted in MY1966• OJ Simpson Bronco chase was in 1994• 1966 to 1994 = 28 years• 1994 to now = 28 yearsFeel old yet?
  • Ronnie Schreiber From where is all that electricity needed to power an EV transportation system going to come? Ironically, the only EV evangelist that I know of who even mentions the fragile nature of our electrical grid is Elon Musk. None of the politicians pushing EVs go anywhere near it, well, unless they are advocating for unreliable renewables like wind and solar.
  • FreedMike I just don’t see the market here - I think about 1.2% of Jeep drivers are going to be sold on the fuel cost savings here. And the fuel cost savings are pretty minimal, per the EPA: fuel costs for this vehicle are $2200 and $2750 for the equivalent base turbo-four model. I don’t get it.