Nearly 3 in 4 Americans are reportedly afraid of self-driving cars, study says

The latest consumer survey reveals most Americans still fear self-driving cars. Only a small minority, 19 percent, would trust autonomous vehicles to transport people they care about. An earlier gradual easing of fears reversed following high-profile fatalities with self-driving test vehicles.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) started surveying consumers attitudes, opinions, and knowledge of self-driving vehicles in 2016. Since that time, AAA has tracked consumer acceptance of the self-driving car concept and dug deeper to measure fear or acceptance of vehicle autonomy.

AAA also surveyed consumer understanding and use of current advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), with disturbing revelations. A 2018 survey revealed most people believed ADAS technology such as adaptive cruise control systems were much more capable than they are today and therefore were overreliant on the technology. AAA also found many U.S. adults believe fully self-driving cars are already traversing U.S. highways — they’re not.

AAA’s most recent survey was conducted by telephone during the second week of January. In all, AAA interviewed 1,008 U.S. adults, 18 years and older.

In the first AAA self-driving car survey in January 2016, 75 percent of respondents reported they were afraid to ride in a fully self-driving car. After rising to 78 percent in early 2017, the fear factor decreased to 73 percent by December of the same year.

Following high-profile fatalities involving autonomous vehicles in Florida, California, and Arizona, 73 percent of surveyed consumers said they were afraid of self-driving cars in April 2018. Nine months later, in January, the 71 percent reported they would fear to ride in a fully autonomous car.

AAA’s additional notable survey findings included:

  • Fully autonomous airport and theme park people mover systems don’t freak out consumers as much as vehicles on public roads — 53 percent of the AAA survey respondents reported being comfortable with autonomous vehicles on closed routes.
  • Food and package delivery by self-driving buggies or trucks would be OK with 44 percent of U.S. drivers. The delivery vehicles would travel on public roads, but wouldn’t have human cargo.
  • Consumer comfort in self-driving cars transporting their children or other loved ones had the lowest survey approval, only 19 percent.
  • Their personal fears notwithstanding, the U.S. drivers surveyed think self-driving cars on public roads are inevitable. Fifty-five percent believe that by 2029 most cars will be capable of fully autonomous operation.
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