This Self-Driving Car Survey Is Interesting But Flawed

The results of this poll are not surprising, but the definition of “self-driving” is ambiguous, at best.

byJustin Hughes|
This Self-Driving Car Survey Is Interesting But Flawed

Americans are still hesitant to let their cars do the driving, according to a Gallup poll performed in conjunction with Northeastern University. The study gauged the attitudes of 3,297 U.S. adults toward several types of artificial intelligence, of which self-driving cars were one. Just 25 percent of those surveyed said they were likely to embrace fully autonomous cars, as opposed to 54 percent who are not. The remainder is neutral on the subject.

The demographic breakdown of attitudes is interesting as well. The younger people are, the more likely they are to welcome our self-driving overlords. Only 12 percent of people over 66 years old are willing to ride in a self-driving car, while 36 percent of people 18 to 35 are. Only 41 percent of 18- to 35-year-olds are unwilling, an almost even split between favorable and unfavorable opinions.

Additionally, college-educated people across the board are evenly split, 38 percent favorable versus 39 percent unfavorable, on accepting self-driving cars. Respondents lacking at least a bachelor's degree were only 19 percent favorable, compared to 62 percent unfavorable.

The numbers are similar, 59 percent uncomfortable, when it comes to how respondents feel about riding in self-driving cars on a daily basis. When it comes to self-driving trucks, 62 percent are uncomfortable sharing the road with them.

This is all very interesting, but what is unclear is exactly how the survey defines a self-driving car. Are we talking Level 5 autonomy, requiring no intervention from the "driver" whatsoever? Level 3, which can take over driving under very specific conditions like the Audi A8? Level 2, such as Tesla Autopilot and Cadillac Super Cruise? Opinions can vary depending on exactly what level of self-driving you mean. Yet the poll did not define the term “self-driving” other than to specify fully self-driving cars or trucks. Presumably, this would be Level 5, but this definition may not be clear to respondents.

I freely admit being one of those people who will give you my steering wheel when you pry it from my cold dead hands. But even I would love to say "KITT, take over" and have the car drive me through nasty stop-and-go traffic the way the Audi A8 can. Though my own cars lack adaptive cruise control, I've used it in press cars and thoroughly enjoyed it. I can almost never use regular cruise control because human drivers never seem to maintain a steady speed. Adaptive cruise control addresses that problem. I'd use it every day if my cars had it.

But despite the ambiguous definition of "self-driving," the poll provides an interesting, if unsurprising, perspective on different people's views of autonomous cars.