AAA Survey: AV Accidents Put Americans on Edge

A rash of accidents involving self-driving cars, most notably involving Uber, has made an already skeptical American public even more wary of autonomous vehicle technology, according to a poll published this week by AAA.

The survey of 1,014 US adults found that following a series of high-profile crashes, nearly three-quarters — 73% — of US drivers reported that they would be afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle, a jump up from 63% at the end of last year.

However, slightly more than half — 55% — of drivers reported that they want semi-autonomous vehicle technology in the next vehicle they buy or lease.

In addition, the study revealed 20% of US drivers would trust a self-driving vehicle, with women — 83% — more likely to be afraid than men (63%).

While more accidents appear inevitable as an ever-greater number of technology companies apply for permits to test self-driving vehicles on public roads, state governments across the country are eager to lure these companies — and their high-paying jobs — onto their streets.

“While autonomous vehicles are being tested, there’s always a chance that they will fail or encounter a situation that challenges even the most advanced system,” Megan Foster, AAA’s director of federal affairs, wrote in a statement. “To ease fears, there must be safeguards in place to protect vehicle occupants and the motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians with whom they share the road.”

The AAA survey found millennial drivers were the generation most spooked by the crashes, with two-thirds saying they would be too afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle, up from 49% at the end of 2017.

According to the study, 63% of US drivers report that they would feel less safe sharing the road with fully self-driving cars while walking or riding a bike, while just over a quarter — 26% — feel it makes no difference.

Only 9% report that it would make them feel safer.

In 2016, AAA began conducting the annual study to better understand consumer attitudes toward self-driving vehicles and seeks to understand US driver attitudes toward sharing the road with fully self-driving vehicles and their desire for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in their next vehicle.

Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations, noted in the report that the organization supports thorough testing of automated vehicle technologies as they continue to evolve — including testing under progressively complicated driving scenarios and under varying conditions.

However, he called for increased use of common nomenclature and a common classification system.

“There are sometimes dozens of different marketing names for today’s safety systems,” Brannon wrote. “Learning how to operate a vehicle equipped with semi-autonomous technology is challenging enough without having to decipher the equipment list and corresponding level of autonomy.”

An April survey by Gallup exploring Americans’ driving habits and their attitudes toward cars found three in four would still use human-operated vehicles even if driverless cars were common.

That poll, which surveyed 1,500 adults aged 18 and older in all 50 US states, found only 9% of Americans surveyed saying they would use the technology immediately once it is certified by government auto-safety regulators.

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