Gallup: US Drivers Not Sold on Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous-car promoters say the technology they love will someday do many great things for humanity, including making roads safer and helping the elderly get around.

However, according to a Gallup poll released February 21, robot vehicles have already done the impossible: Unite Americans of all ages, genders, regions and educational backgrounds.

Young and old, college-educated or not, more adults across the US are worried about self-driving cars and trucks than are feeling gung-ho about them, Gallup found.

Those results, which are based on interviews with nearly 3,300 US adults, are the latest evidence that while carmakers and Silicon Valley companies are heading into the autonomous future at top speed, many of the consumers they expect to buy into the new technology still prefer to go slow.

The bottom line: 54% of US adults say it’s unlikely they’ll even use fully self-driving cars. Only 25% say it’s likely. Even among those 18 to 35, only 36% expect to take the leap. Americans with college degrees think it’s iffy (39% to 38%), while those with less education overwhelmingly doubt they’ll go driverless.

Gallup’s findings echo those of a survey released this week by TÜV Rheinland, which found that many consumers in the US and Europe don’t trust self-driving cars — though those in China are much more open to the new technology.

Last fall, Gallup asked 3,297 US adults about their feelings on a scale from “extremely uncomfortable” to “extremely comfortable.”

Riding in a self-driving car every day would make 59% of Americans uncomfortable, the survey found. More than two-thirds of those over age 66 gave that response, but even among 18-to-35-year-olds, half said they wouldn’t be comfortable with it.

Education may open consumers up to the idea a little.

Only 45% of people with a bachelor’s degree were uncomfortable with the idea — but only 33% actually said they were comfortable with it. For those with less education, the split was 65% to 18%.

Sharing the road with self-driving trucks drew even stronger reactions. Overall, 62% of those surveyed said they were uneasy about getting on the road with robot trucks, and only 20% said it would be OK. Again, about half of the youngest group wasn’t quite ready.

These results may be bad news for those who want legislators and the public to embrace autonomous vehicles. Entire industries, including ride-hailing and long-haul trucking, have a lot riding on self-driving technology to cut costs and scale up their businesses. Tens of billions of dollars have been invested.

What happens if consumers don’t buy in?

For example, retirement communities are considered a key early market for driverless ride-hailing, due to quiet streets and residents who’ve had to give up driving, yet more than two-thirds of people over 66 told Gallup they don’t think they’ll ever use a self-driving car.

There may be hard times ahead, but here’s a potential glimmer of hope: In 2000, about one in five adults (not even counting seniors) told Gallup they would never get a cellphone. Now, 95% of Americans have one. Maybe the other 5% just can’t find it.

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

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