Survey Says: Majority Concerned About Driverless Car Safety
February 14, 2020

The public has serious apprehensions about driverless car safety and highly supportive of rules and protections for this developing technology, according to ENGINE'S CARAVAN SURVEY, commissioned by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates).

The survey of more than 2,000 adults found that 85 percent of respondents are concerned about sharing the road with a driverless car as a motorist, bicyclist or pedestrian.

At a time when autonomous vehicle (AV) manufacturers are pushing for federal legislation to allow them to sell driverless cars exempt from current federal safety standards, Advocates says this new polling data should serve as an urgent warning that elected officials should prioritize safety over corporate profit.

Advocates’ President Cathy Chase said, “Americans are loud and clear in their message to lawmakers about driverless cars. They strongly object to being unknowing, unwilling and unsuspecting test subjects in a risky experiment that has already proven to be deadly and dangerous. Congress and the US Department of Transportation (DOT) should heed the pulse of the public and establish necessary safety standards for driverless cars. A lack of safeguards will endanger the safe rollout and public acceptance of innovative technology that holds the promise of significantly reducing the immense motor vehicle crash fatality and injury toll.”

Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce added, “The poll released by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety makes one thing crystal clear – we must have meaningful rules of the road for automated vehicles or these potentially life-saving technologies will not be publicly accepted. NHTSA should take a hands-on approach to self-driving car technology, proactively adopting standards and safeguards that ensure the autonomous vehicle era is our safest yet.”

Per the survey, 71 percent of those surveyed said they support the development of minimum safety requirements for new technologies relating to the operation of driverless cars. Notably, 68 percent of those surveyed said knowing companies had to meet minimum safety requirements for their driverless cars before selling them to the public would address their trepidations.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) needs to be the ‘cop on the beat’ to protect motorists and all road users as new technologies are rolled out,” said Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA Administrator and President Emeritus of Public Citizen. “... Advocates’ new poll shows that the public expects government officials to be looking out for their safety. Green-lighting unproven technology without appropriate rules while gutting current lifesaving protections is a recipe for disaster on our roadways.”

Support for specific rules was also consistent. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) support cybersecurity protections in driverless cars to prevent against hacking.

Further, 76 percent of respondents said driverless cars should be required to pass a “vision test” to ensure the vehicle can “see” and properly respond to all participants and aspects of the operating environment.

“Americans are united: automated vehicles should be able to pass a basic ‘vision test’, just like we expect of human drivers, before they begin sharing our roads,” said Bill Nesper, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists. “Pedestrians and bicyclists are dying at the highest numbers in decades and Congress must make sure that automated vehicles will be safe for everyone inside and outside out them.”

The survey also found broad concern (63 percent) about allowing auto and tech companies to each sell as many as 100,000 vehicles equipped with driverless technologies that do not meet existing federal safety standards.