Drivers Relax Slightly on Idea of Self-Driving Cars - Yet Still Fear Sharing the Road with One
March 02, 2018

Greg Brannon

Almost daily, consumers are faced with a steady stream of timelines, predictions and updates on when self-driving cars are expected to hit the road. Yet, the majority still struggle with the idea of handing over control to or even driving alongside these vehicles.

Drivers who own newer cars are already experiencing many of the building blocks of autonomous technology through systems like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, self-parking technology and lane keeping systems. AAA's latest research demonstrates this type of continued exposure can somewhat impact consumer attitude, finding that 37 percent of drivers are not afraid to ride in a self-driving car, an increase of 12 percent over last year. Despite this shift, though, nearly half of drivers (46 percent) are still leery of sharing the road with autonomous vehicles. This conflict in data signals the need for increased education on the benefits and limitations of these technologies.

AAA also found deviations in generational acceptance with Baby Boomers having the largest change in attitude. The majority (68 percent) still report being afraid to ride in a self-driving car, but this is a significant drop over last year when the number was 85 percent. Millennials are still the most trusting with only 49 percent saying they would be afraid to ride in an autonomous vehicle.

AAA's study also revealed that 73 percent of Americans are very confident in their own driving abilities as compared to others, another possible factor in the mental block drivers have when it comes to accepting self-driving cars. In contrast, more than 35,000 people die each year on U.S. roadways. Autonomous vehicle technology is intended to improve safety, mobility and convenience. While it is still early, many experts in the industry believe self-driving vehicles will be safer than cars driven by humans. Human error is considered a factor in 90 percent of crashes.

As higher levels of autonomous technology come onto the market, consumers will continue to face the challenge of balancing something so innate with something still so foreign. The industry also lacks standardization in the naming and functionality of many of these systems. Creating a more consistent experience for consumers as it pertains to semi- and fully-autonomous technologies will aid in building wide-spread acceptance.

AAA is committed to conducting ongoing, unbiased research into these emerging technologies to help consumers form educated opinions about cars of the future. If self-driving cars are to become a reality, it is critical that the driving public have a clear understanding and expectation of what it will mean to ride in and share the road with these vehicles.

Greg Brannon is Director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations at the AAA National Office