Poll: Majority Worried About Sharing Road With Driverless Cars

Advocacy group says Congress and Transportation officials should not let the automotive industry write the rules governing autonomous vehicles. 

Luke Beard—© 2017 Luke Beard

Armed with survey results underlining consumer concerns about autonomous vehicles, a coalition of safety advocates is calling on lawmakers and federal transportation officials to hold car manufacturers accountable to safety standards for driverless cars.

A majority of Americans are apprehensive about sharing the road with driverless vehicles, according to the findings of a poll released Friday by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The survey conducted in December of 1,005 adults "should be an urgent wakeup call to Congress and DOT (Department of Transportation) change course," Kathy Chase, president of the group, told a conference call. 

Driverless cars hold the potential for reducing crashes that kill about 100 Americans and injure nearly 6,500 more every day, but that doesn't mean the industry should be allowed to pursue the technology unregulated, Chase and other advocates argued.

A specific concern is government allowing manufacturers to disable a vehicle's steering wheel (or not have one at all) and other operations to keep a human from taking control should the technology malfunction.

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"In the rush to market, we want to make sure DOT and Congress don't replace human error with computer error," said Joan Claybrook, a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, a division of the federal transportation agency.

Of those surveyed, nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, said they were concerned about driverless cars, while 56 percent said they would not get in a self-driving vehicle.

Of those who said they wouldn't ride in an autonomous car, 42 percent cited distrust of the technology or fear of giving up control and 30 percent cited safety concerns.

Three of five respondents said they were not comfortable with Congress increasing the number of driverless cars exempt from existing federal vehicle safety standards.

Legislation currently making its way through Congress would let manufacturers sell as many as 100,000 self-driving vehicles exempt from federal standards, according to the advocacy group.