The Attitude Towards Autonomous Vehicles

by William Mattar | April 20th, 2017

A recent survey by AAA provides important perspective on society’s attitudes toward autonomous vehicles.

Key findings include:
• Only one‐in‐five (20%) U.S. drivers would trust an autonomous vehicle to drive itself with them in it.
• Three‐quarters (75%) of U.S. drivers would be afraid to allow an autonomous vehicle to drive itself with them in it.
• Women (81%) are more likely than men (67%) to be afraid to allow an autonomous vehicle to drive itself with them in it.
• Baby Boomers (82%) are more likely to be afraid to allow an autonomous vehicle to drive itself with them in it than younger generations (69%)
• U.S. drivers are most likely to trust lane departure warning/lane keep assist (52%), followed by adaptive cruise control (47%), automatic emergency braking (44%) and self‐parking technology (36%).
• Men are more likely than women to trust semi‐ autonomous vehicle technology, specifically self‐parking (42% vs. 31%), automatic emergency braking (49% vs. 40%) and adaptive cruise control (50% vs. 43%)
• Drivers that have semi‐autonomous technology in their vehicle are more likely to trust it than those that do not, specifically lane‐departure warnings/lane keep assist (84% vs. 50%), adaptive cruise control (73% vs. 47%) and automatic emergency braking (71% vs. 44%).

A quick disclaimer as to the sample size: Two waves of omnibus telephone surveys were conducted on January 14 and 24, 2016, completing a total of 1,832 interviews.

While survey responses were weighted by a number of variables (including age, gender, and race/ethnicity), this sample is not exactly a cross-section of society. The survey accordingly carries a margin of error of +/- 2.7% with a 95% confidence level.

In short, though imperfect, the survey is reliable, shedding light on a decided reluctance to adopt the new technology.

Of course, as we have seen through history, new technologies often provoke unfounded fears. In the late 19th Century, some called the telephone “the instrument of the devil.” That technology revolutionized our world.

Advances in technology, however helpful to society, always come with uncertainty and some degree of apprehension.

Despite AAA’s finding that Baby Boomers generation is more likely to be afraid to allow an autonomous vehicle to drive them, their parents—the Silent Generation—are embracing the possibilities.

A recent article in Bloomberg Business exposes how, due to their mobility needs, aging Americans are a target market for self-driving vehicles.
Baby boomers—who came of age in the suburbs and equate car keys with freedom—want to remain mobile. Older Americans are keeping their licenses longer and driving more miles than in the past, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But advancing age often brings health problems, including poorer vision, memory loss, arthritis and other impairments that can affect driving ability.

The article quotes the director of MIT’s AgeLab: “For the first time in history, older people are going to be the lifestyle leaders of a new technology . . . Younger people may have had smartphones in their hands first, but it’s the 50-plus consumers who will be first with smart cars.”

Relying on data from the US Department of Transportation, the article further notes that fatal crash rates are highest among driver ages 85 and older, observing that “[a]utonomous cars could provide seniors with the safety and convenience they need.”