Americans Support Minimum Safety Standards for Driverless Cars
January 26, 2018

Pete Goldin

Major segments of American society have widespread concern over important issues under consideration in federal legislation on driverless cars — especially the level of government oversight to ensure auto manufacturer accountability regarding driverless cars — according to a new CARAVAN Public Opinion Poll conducted for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

These issues include:

■ mass exemptions from existing safety standards (63% oppose)

■ disconnection of vehicle controls such as the steering wheel and brake and gas pedals when the autonomous vehicle (AV) is being operated by a computer (75% oppose)

■ minimum safety standards for new features related to the operation of AVs (73% support)

■ cybersecurity standards (81% support)

■ standards governing the ability of a human driver to safely take back control from the AV (84% support)

■ minimum performance requirements for computers that operate AVs (80% support)

■ the need for online consumer information about AV capabilities (87% support).

These poll numbers demonstrate that the American public wants basic safeguards before this new technology enters the marketplace.

Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, stated, “We sought to determine what the American public thinks about the direction Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation is taking right now as they determine roles and responsibilities of the federal government and auto manufacturers for the foreseeable future. These poll results should be an urgent wake-up call to change course. One of the most important findings of this poll is that nearly two-thirds of respondents are concerned about sharing the road with driverless cars. Today, we urge our nation’s leaders to listen carefully to the concerns of the American people and to take an immediate course correction to address significant safety shortcomings and serious public concerns revealed in the poll.”

One of the bigger questions is why Congress is rushing through driverless car legislation when there's time to get it right

“I think one of the bigger questions facing us is why Congress is rushing through driverless car legislation right now when there’s time to get it right,” said Jackie Gillan, President Emeritus of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “The poll clearly shows that the public does not endorse the positions taken by the industry and reflected in the House and Senate bills. In fact, the overwhelming public response to these proposals, as expressed in the poll, is essentially ‘No Thank You.’ These poll results combined with the reality that driverless cars are still many, many years away call for a balanced approach to protect public safety and promote consumer confidence in the technology. The House and Senate bills lack this balance and that needs to change.”

Joan Claybrook, former Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, stated, “We are at the beginning of a brave new world regarding the advent of innovative technologies that will lead to some form of autonomous vehicles. Even today, our cars essentially are computers on wheels. It is critical that the U.S. Department of Transportation implement its statutory mandate to issue vehicle safety standards for autonomous cars. The last thing the public wants is to have DOT standing on the sidelines, allowing auto and tech companies to build and sell cars equipped with new technologies that do not meet minimum government requirements. Standards are necessary to guarantee their performance in all driving situations and on all road conditions.”

Shaun Kildare, Director of Research for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said, “Today’s report illustrates that there is consumer concern about the introduction of driverless cars. More importantly, consumers want driverless cars to be subject to the same types of minimum safety standards which have saved so many lives over the past several decades.”

Methodology: The nationwide telephone CARAVAN survey of 1,005 adults living in the US was conducted by ORC International from December 7-10, 2017.