Self-Driving Cars Still Not Scratching Public in the Right Places

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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self driving cars still not scratching public in the right places

Every few months, the American Automobile Association gives us an update on the public’s feelings toward autonomous vehicles. Its surveys continue to place the number of individuals made uncomfortable by the idea of riding in a self-driving car at around 3 in 4.

While the ratio did come down slightly in 2017, high-profile fatalities involving autonomous (or Autopilot-enabled) vehicles in Florida, California, and Arizona ultimately took the number of fearful motorists back up to 78 percent by the start of 2018. For 2019, AAA said 71 percent of survey respondents still had serious trepidation, with only 19 percent claiming they’d even consider putting a loved one into a self-driving vehicle.

“Automated vehicle technology is evolving on a very public stage and, as a result, it is affecting how consumers feel about it,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “Having the opportunity to interact with partially or fully automated vehicle technology will help remove some of the mystery for consumers and open the door for greater acceptance.”

Limiting the scope of autonomous cars helps remove some of the associated anxiety, too. According to the AAA survey, 53 percent of respondents reported being comfortable with autonomous vehicles on closed routes (theme park or airport shuttles, for example) operating at lower speeds. Meanwhile, 44 percent claimed they’d be fine with sharing the road with vehicles delivering food or packages without human occupants.

AAA used a telephone omnibus survey, conducted between January 10th and 13th of 2019, yielding 1,008 interviews from adults 18 years of age or older. It claimed a 4-percent margin of error for the study.

“Despite fears still running high, AAA’s study also shows that Americans are willing to take baby steps toward incorporating this type of technology into their lives,” continued Brannon. “Hands-on exposure in more controlled, low-risk environments coupled with stronger education will play a key role in easing fears about self-driving cars.”

While being familiar with advanced driving aids helped assuage fears, making an individual 68 percent more likely to trust semi-autonomous cars, the overall assessment paints a bleak picture for self-driving tech. Still, despite the public’s general unease, most drivers claim it’s just a matter of time before robot cars are everywhere. Of those surveyed by AAA, 55 percent believed that most cars will be capable of full autonomy by 2029.

To us, that timeline feels slightly ambitious and likely to be impacted by public acceptance. If the public is unwilling to ride in a robo-taxi, companies will be less willing to provide them. However, steps are being taken to change this sentiment, with various outreach programs now in play to familiarize Americans with the technology.

From AAA:

Recently, AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah, in partnership with the city of Las Vegas, Keolis North America and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), piloted the first and largest self-driving shuttle for the public to operate in live traffic, in an effort to give more people the opportunity to gain real-world experience with automated vehicle transportation. The self-driving shuttle was the first in the country to be fully integrated with smart city infrastructure and operate on open, public roads. Participants had the voluntary opportunity to take a survey post-ride regarding the impact of their personal experience with the shuttle on their perception of self-driving vehicles. Of those who responded, many reported their sentiment improved following the experience of riding the shuttle.

Automakers, tech firms, and suppliers have also joined forces in the Partnership for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE). The group’s singular stated goal is to “inform the public about automated vehicles and their potential so everyone can fully participate in shaping the future of transportation.” It is, however, similarly targeted at encouraging policymakers to back autonomous programs and pass laws that make self-driving vehicles easier to get on the road. PAVE said it intends to provide self-driving test rides for the public while conducting educational workshops and developing informational materials on AVs.

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Mar 14, 2019

    The ultimate transportation technology would let you avoid the trip in the first place. (I successfully avoid a lot of trips these days.) Now before you flame me, 'car enthusiast' - realize that if a lot of the sheep were off the road, driving would be closer to what it used to be...

  • Jcwconsult Jcwconsult on Mar 15, 2019

    I have no interest in owning or using an autonomous vehicle. I love to drive and prefer to do it myself - something over 1.1 million miles in 27 major countries. I just bought a new 2018 VW GTI, the plainer S model with a 6 speed manual trans. It has none of the nanny-state driver assist features that I do not want to have or use, other than the back up camera which I like. it has a conventional ignition key that cannot be hacked - and that won't kill people with carbon monoxide who fail to notice they did not turn off their very quiet new model car in their attached garages.

    • FreedMike FreedMike on Mar 15, 2019

      If you want to define systems that intervene when they sense you're going to crash as "nanny state," then your GTI has at least two: anti-lock brakes and automatic stability control. Just sayin'. (By the way, kudos on buying a manual!)

  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.
  • Tassos A "small car", TIM????????????This is the GLE. Have you even ever SEEN the huge thing at a dealer's??? NOT even the GLC,and Merc has TWO classes even SMALLER than the C (The A and the B, you guessed it? You must be a GENIUS!).THe E is a "MIDSIZED" crossover, NOT A SMALL ONE BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION, oh CLUELESS one.I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THE NONSENSE you post here every god damned day.And I BET you will never even CORRECT your NONSENSE, much less APOLOGIZE for your cluelessness and unprofessionalism.
  • Stuki Moi "How do you take a small crossover and make it better?Slap the AMG badge on it and give it the AMG treatment."No, you don't.In fact, that is specifically what you do NOT do.Huge, frail wheels, and postage stamp sidewalls, do nothing but make overly tall cuvs tramline and judder. And render them even less useful across the few surfaces where they could conceivably have an advantage over more properly dimensioned cars. And: Small cuvs have pitiful enough fuel range as it is, even with more sensible engines.Instead, to make a small CUV better, you 1)make it a lower slung wagon. And only then give it the AMG treatment. AMG'ing, makes sense for the E class. And these days with larger cars, even the C class. For the S class, it never made sense, aside from the sheer aural visceralness of the last NA V8. The E-class is the center of AMG. Even the C-class, rarely touches the M3.Or 2) You give it the Raptor/Baja treatment. Massive, hypersophisticated suspension travel allowing landing meaningful jumps. As well as driving up and down wide enough stairs if desired. That's a kind of driving for which a taller stance, and IFS/IRS, makes sense.Attempting to turn a CUV into some sort of a laptime wonder, makes about as much sense as putting an America's Cup rig atop a ten deck cruiseship.