Automakers may already hold the key to improving public acceptance of self-driving cars: fine-tuning existing vehicle technology. AAA’s annual automated vehicle survey finds that only 22% of people feel manufacturers should focus on developing self-driving vehicles. The majority of drivers (80%) say they want current vehicle safety systems, like automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assistance, to work better and more than half—58%—said they want these systems in their next vehicle.
“People are ready to embrace new vehicle technology, especially if it will make driving safer,” said Mary Maguire, Director of Public and Government Affairs. “Consumers are clear about what they want and if automakers seize the opportunity to provide a better experience now, it will pave the way for the vehicles of tomorrow.” Nearly 96% of 2020 vehicle models came equipped with at least one advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning or lane keeping assistance.
Still Lukewarm about Self-Driving Technology
For 6 years, AAA’s annual automated vehicle survey has gauged consumer sentiment regarding emerging vehicle technology, focusing on self-driving vehicles. While American’s interest in owning a car with more advanced technology grows, drivers are still struggling to warm up to the idea of full vehicle automation. AAA’s national survey found that 14% of drivers would trust riding in a vehicle that drives itself, similar to last year’s results. However, 86% either said they would be afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle (54%) or are unsure about it (32%). A local AAA Northeast survey revealed that less than 30% of people feel safe riding in a self-driving car, and two-thirds of those surveyed said the speed of the vehicle would impact their comfort level, with more than half indicating they’d feel safer in a slower-moving urban setting.
COVID-19 Has Had Little Impact
People’s hesitation toward self-driving vehicles is reflected by how little the pandemic has changed opinion. AAA asked drivers if COVID-19 would influence their decision to use a self-driving vehicle as an alternative to public transportation or ride-hailing. Only a relatively small number said they would be more likely to opt for a self-driving vehicle, but a larger number said COVID-19 would make no difference in affecting their decision.
Self-driving vehicles are still years away from being available to consumers. However, as testing on public roads expands, drivers will likely interact with various levels of new vehicle technology. The public should also find opportunities to educate themselves on when and how self-driving vehicles will be a part of daily life. A collective effort by both industry and consumers is what it will take to move the needle away from apprehension and closer toward acceptance.
“Transparent, accurate and frequent information from the industries involved in developing self-driving vehicles will ease consumer concerns,” said Ms. Maguire.