By on March 14, 2019

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.]

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25 Comments on “Self-Driving Cars Still Not Scratching Public in the Right Places...”


  • avatar
    jkross22

    Self driving tech is not ready for mass adoption. The public knows this. Automakers know it too.

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    Not interested. We have transportation options that you do not have to operate. They’re called busses, trains, subways, planes, cabs. Uber, Lyft and limo/car service. Throw all this R&D money into public trans and people might want to start using it.

  • avatar
    FOG

    I have noticed that friends outside the auto industry, in rural areas, really overestimate the ability of autonomous vehicles. As a result, they either think they are awesome or terribly awesome… They believe that autonomy itself is part of a bigger goal to control people. “Once everyone is forced into autonomous vehicles then the government, or a hacker, can make everyone drive slower. Wealthy people can force traffic to avoid their neighborhood…”

    I wish that I were exaggerating, but I am actually understating what I am hearing.

    • 0 avatar
      forward_look

      We don’t even have lines painted on our road. Sometimes the snow is so bad that you just try to keep between the telephone poles. And avoid the potholes.

      We don’t even have self-driving aircraft that work all the time.

    • 0 avatar
      retrocrank

      Having lived the first 50 years of my life in a tiny rural town in an agricultural state in the Midwest and now for 15 years living on a populated coast, I think you have way understated this case. Our Moral Superiors out here have little idea of rural America’s skepticism, disgust, and resentment of unearned wealth, privilege, and power, that contributes to a perception of diminishing personal liberty and justice. Autonomous cars are just one more insult…

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        For the record, I don’t buy the self-driving car hype either, but a car that drives itself doesn’t seem to represent unearned wealth or privilege to me, unless someone’s planning on giving them away. Last I checked, these cars ain’t gonna be free.

        In fact, I would bet that the tech might work better in rural areas than it does in crowded cities. I wouldn’t mind a car that could drive itself across Kansas on I-70, but I wouldn’t trust it to navigate city streets here in Denver.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      “… autonomy itself is part of a bigger goal to control people”
      “Once everyone is forced into autonomous vehicles then the government, or a hacker, can make everyone drive slower…”
      “Wealthy people can force traffic to avoid their neighborhood…”

      Given the general track record of “the 1%” and “the 1% of the 1%”, and the privacy record of Facebook, Google, and so on, what part of these ideas sounds implausible? Not to say that there aren’t even more extreme ideas floating out there, but I think we should acknowledge that a lot of mistrust has been earned.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    I’m exhausted on the touting of public polling numbers….they don’t tell us a lot about the reality of the technology. Only exacting and comprehensive regulation is standing between us and some efficiency calculation which deems a certain number of civilian casualties during live testing as acceptable…

    Automaker and apps who stand to profit from autonomous technology would love for this to be a battle they can win by buying polling results.

  • avatar
    retrocrank

    Other than the one-train-on-the-entire-track-in-an-isolated-system at some airports which are pilot-less/”autonomous,” it’s hard to imagine any person getting on a train, bus or aircraft which is not under human guidance or at least immediate override by a driver/pilot who can reasonably be expected to be specifically trained, licensed, attentive, rested and sober.

    Assuming that’s true, why would anybody think any sane person would be ready for autonomous cars, which are far more likely to be occupied by disinterested, preoccupied, questionably rested, inattentive and possibly nonsober humanoids?

    I’m just as dead whether I get nailed by an autonomous car or fall from the sky in a 737.

    The fact that nearly a quarter of the population thinks these things are a good idea gives rise for optimism, since only half of the bottom half of intellects think these things are a good idea.

  • avatar
    James2

    Silicon Valley should stick to making products/services that spy on you; self-driving cars are just too far a stretch.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Been saying this for a long time now – it’ll all boil down to whether consumers trust the tech or not. If they don’t trust it, they won’t buy it, and the tech isn’t trustworthy yet. Simple as that.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      Well, yes, Mike. I’m with you. But notice how all of this “driver assistance” technology is being installed in new cars without our input. Some of it can’t be turned off. A lot of people say they don’t want it – but are clearly accepting it. In the end, most Americans will go with convenience. If avoiding this technology becomes too much of a chore, most of us will surrender. And it’s starting to happen already.

      • 0 avatar
        jatz

        “A lot of people say they don’t want it – but are clearly accepting it.”

        Like we “accept” taxes and old age. You want a new car you take the junk they cram into it.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        True, but there’s a big difference between a car that intervenes when it senses something catastrophic, and a car that will literally drive itself with no help from a driver. Personally, I’d welcome the former, and I think most car buyers do as well, which is the reason you’re seeing it. But I’m nowhere near ready for the latter.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    It’s a terribly stupid waste of resources to poll this, this is a big money transfer either from organizations or government, to people that may preach this future but know for a fact it will not happen anytime soon.

    Anyone that feels something needs to be advanced faster than society allows is doing it for the wrong reasons. As small advancements are made to cars that allow more autonomy (on a smaller scale) are eventually accepted, it will lead to the world where the majority of vehicles are autonomous. Gradual changes are expected, giant leaps are rightfully shunned.

  • avatar
    jatz

    They can’t come soon enough for me. And not just because I’m old.

    Gun Control, Birth Control, Car Control!

    Oh, and Fragrance Control. NOTHING PATCHOULI BASED!

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    The only way that autonomous cars will work reliably is if ALL of the cars are autonomous – and in full contact with any and all other cars in the vicinity. That way they won’t be in Defensive Mode, as they are now, ready to throw themselves in ‘Park’ at the slightest anomaly. Luckily I’ll be pushing up daisies long before this Orwellian and dystopian nightmare becomes a reality.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      Completely agree. AVs in a mix with meatsack drivers will be the sissy kid in middle school.

      Worse, a smart, privileged sissy kid.

      Most of the terror will be inadvertent, but many will deliberately target them to mau-mau.

  • avatar
    Hogey74

    Fully autonomous cars have struck me as being cool but a long way off and something no one is asking for. If people like Musk push ahead far enough, fine. We’ll deal with what comes. But I don’t know anyone who is gunning for an autonomous car. And while I don’t doubt the rough estimates of a 90% drop in crashes, injuries and deaths, we will get habituated quickly to less risk. Then, when new and very troubling types of accidents do happen, we’ll collectively be more shocked.

    The Boeing thing going on right now probably serves as a guide to this… smart and well-meaning people trying to make a system safer but missing details and have an insufficiently open safety culture. And hence leaving a minuscule but real error pathway that, when iterated sufficiently, becomes a certainty.

    The only way I can see autonomy really kicking off is when it occurs in set environments like freeways/through-roads where collisions are physically prevented by road design and with triple redundancy of sensing and auto-braking systems, as in auto-landing systems on transport aircraft. Plus, all vehicles having multiple beacons broadcasting location and vector/state information so safety and smooth system-wide operation isn’t down to individual vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      “The only way I can see autonomy really kicking off is.. in set environments like freeways/through-roads where collisions are physically prevented…”

      Already beset by the cost of social programs whose product is a fecund underclass guaranteeing ever more loss of infrastructure investment to entitlements, we have no reason to worry.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      There’s a pretty simple reason as to why Google and Apple want to build and sell autonomous cars – content. They both want you on your device, either consuming or generating content. This makes them money even as you ride along in your pod that you paid money for. Abhorrent, in my view.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    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…

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      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!)


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