Falling Consumer Support for Driverless Cars, Says Survey

Consumers’ enthusiasm for autonomous vehicles has declined in the past two years, even though they want semi-autonomous safety features, according to a new US survey.

Most consumers think roads are safer with humans driving than they would be if all vehicles were autonomous, the Cox Automotive Mobility Study found. Still, 54% said semi-autonomous features such as collision-warning alerts and collision-avoidance systems make people better drivers – something they put on their own wish lists.

The proportion of respondents who think roads would be safer with only self-driving vehicles has declined by 18% since 2016 and 49% said they would never buy a fully autonomous Level 5 AV – up from 30% two years ago, Cox said in a press release. The online survey of 1,250 US consumers by the software company attributed the declining support for AVs to consumers having learned more about the complexities of putting automated cars on the road.

Ironically, the industry is currently focused on safety and reassuring consumers over Av technology. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has called on AV companies to issue voluntary reports about the safety of their products and Ford became the latest manufacturer to release one. Testing and development of AVs over the past two years has revealed challenges such as how to choose the best action in situations where a collision can’t be avoided. Self-driving and semi-autonomous vehicles also have been involved in accidents, some of them fatal.

However, being aware of the only known fatal crash involving a self-driving vehicle, which took place in March, didn’t appear to affect consumers’ attitudes much – 54% of those who didn’t know about it thought roads would be safer if humans drove all cars, compared with 55% for those who did know. The results suggest many consumers like things the way they are right now. Two years ago, the degree of automation that consumers wanted most was Level 4 with manual override capability. Now the most popular self-driving classification is Level 2, already available in some cars, where technology can control steering, brakes and acceleration but requires the driver to pay attention and be ready to take over at any time.

Even if they owned a self-driving car, a full 84% would want the option of driving it themselves, the survey said. The other 16% would be happy owning a car that did all the driving, all the time. Caution was the watchword with another set of results, too: while three-quarters of the respondents said real-world testing is necessary to develop safe AVs, 54% prefer to have it done away from where they live.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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