AAA Survey: Lots of Americans Fear Self-Driving Cars

More than three-quarters of American drivers say they'd be "afraid" to ride in an autonomous car.

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Manufacturers may be ready to charge ahead with the next wave of autonomous capabilities coming to new cars, but a new survey of American drivers from AAA should give everyone a little pause. While respondents say they appreciate certain autonomous features, 78 percent of respondents say they'd be "afraid" to ride in a fully self-driving car, and another 54 percent said they'd feel "less safe" sharing the road with robot drivers. Whether it comes down to a lack of exposure and information or a more fundamental discomfort and unease, it's clear the promise of autonomous cars doesn't quite line up with many Americans' perception of the technology. 

At first, the results don't quite make sense; a majority of people said they are both afraid of the self-driving future and excited about the idea of having more autonomous features in their current cars. But the apparent contradiction can be explained by the current state of most of these technologies, according to Greg Bannon, AAA's director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations.

"U.S. drivers may experience the driver assistance technologies in their cars today and feel they don’t work consistently enough to replace a human driver—and they’re correct," he said in the company's press release. In other words, when someone's radar-guided cruise control screws up, they think: Wow, I thought this car was supposed to be smart. Imagine if I had no control at all there. 

AAA points out another problem is the variation between different manufacturers' systems, both in design and performance. 81 percent of drivers believe autonomous features should be standardized across makes and models. 

Predictably, the results break down generationally, with more Baby Boomers voicing their concerns with self-driving cars than Millennials or Gen-Xers, and more people in the younger generations looking forward to an increase in available autonomous features. But there's enough of a clear majority opinion overall that automakers might want to think about getting more of the public on board before plunging ahead into this brave new world.