Study: 3 out of 4 people afraid to drive autonomous car

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Three out of 4 U.S. drivers are afraid to ride in a self-driving car, according to a new AAA study released Tuesday.

The automobile club’s study also found that only 1 in 5 Americans say they would trust an autonomous vehicle to drive itself.

Despite their initial trepidations, the study found that gradual experience can lessen that fear. The study said drivers who own vehicles with semi-autonomous features are 75 percent more likely to trust the technology than first-time users.

“With the rapid advancement towards autonomous vehicles, American drivers may be hesitant to give up full control,” John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair, said in a statement. “What Americans may not realize is that the building blocks towards self-driving cars are already in today’s vehicles and the technology is constantly improving and well-trusted by those who have experienced it.”

A separate study released by global consulting agency EY at the Geneva auto show found that more than 40 percent of drivers could imagine letting an autopilot steer their car, while around two-thirds of drivers were willing to let an autopilot steer their car if they had an added option of taking over the wheel in an emergency.

The studies comes a day after Google reported its driverless car was at fault when it hit a bus at 2 miles per hour while test driving on California roads. The tech company has reported all accidents involving its driverless cars, and none have resulted in injuries.

Last January, senior executives from 17 of the world’s leading automotive companies met with federal officials in Detroit to cement an agreement aimed to collaboratively enhance auto safety efforts in the United States. No definitive actions were announced but executives and federal officials categorized the agreement as “historic,” “unprecedented” and a road map for the industry and federal officials moving forward.

Already, most major automakers have implemented a number of semi-autonomous safety features like park assist, collision warning and lane-keeping assist. Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of American drivers surveyed by AAA report wanting automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, self-parking technology or lane-keeping assist in their next vehicle.

Most drivers (84 percent) who want the technology cite safety as the No. 1 reason. About 64 percent of responders want it for convenience, while 46 percent want it to reduce stress.

About 84 percent of drivers who do not want semi-autonomous features on their next vehicle say they trust their own driving skills more than the technology. About 60 percent feel it’s too new and unproven, while 57 percent just don’t want to pay more for it.

The EY study said that forward-collision warning systems and automatic braking will help reduce car crashes up to 15 percent.

Driverless cars are coming, whether consumers want them or not.

In January, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced a 10-year, $3.9 billion investment that’s part of President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget proposal to accelerate development of autonomous cars. The new policies would lay a framework for state regulatory laws and generally remove roadblocks and red tape that have stalled development in the past.

Delphi Automotive has been testing a fully autonomous Audi SQ5 for years, and showcased the vehicle at this year’s CES tech show in Las Vegas.

Kia Motors Corp. earlier this year created a sub-brand called Drive Wise for all of its autonomous vehicle research, and plans to put a fully driverless car to the market by 2030. Ford Motor Co. earlier this year tripled its autonomous vehicle test fleet, and CEO Mark Fields has said he expects someone to put a fully driverless car on the road by the end of the decade.

A January study by consulting firm McKinsey & Company said they expect by 2030, 15 percent of global auto sales will be of autonomous cars. By 2035, the EY study says 85 million autonomous-capable vehicles will be sold annually.

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