Three in Four Americans Are Afraid to Ride In a Self-Driving Car: AAA Study

Attitudes toward self-driving cars are not improving, according to AAA.

Several companies are pushing ahead with self-driving cars, but a new study indicates the public might not be ready for them. In its latest annual study of consumer attitudes toward self-driving cars, AAA found that 71 percent of Americans are afraid to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle.

Last year saw a fatal crash involving an Uber test car and attitudes toward self-driving cars haven’t rebounded since then, AAA said. However, even before the crash, 63 percent of Americans were still afraid to ride in a fully autonomous car, according to AAA’s figures.

AAA did find that respondents were more willing to trust automated vehicles in more limited applications. About half of respondents (53 percent) said they were comfortable with autonomous technology in low-speed, short-distance forms of transportation, such as the people movers used at some airports. In addition, 44 percent said they were comfortable with autonomous food-delivery vehicles. However, just one in five respondents said they were comfortable with an autonomous vehicle transporting their loved ones.

Personal experience with new technologies is key to improving attitudes, AAA believes. When it comes to driver-assist features like adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, AAA found that drivers who have these features in their cars are 68 percent more likely to trust them than drivers who don’t. These types of driver aids are often conflated with autonomous driving, although they still require the driver to be alert and attentive at all times.

“Despite fears still running high, AAA’s study also shows that Americans are willing to take baby steps toward incorporating this type of technology into their lives,” Greg Brannon, AAA director of automotive engineering and industry relations, said in a statement. “Hands-on exposure in more controlled, low-risk environments coupled with stronger education will play a key role in easing fears about self-driving cars.”

AAA has some real-world experience with this. One of the group’s regional units operates a low-speed autonomous shuttle in Las Vegas, in concert with public-transit service provider Keolis and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. Many people surveyed after their rides said their attitudes toward autonomous vehicles had improved, AAA claimed.

While the study indicated many Americans aren’t looking forward to the arrival of self-driving cars, it also showed that many people believe autonomous cars will arrive relatively soon. Just over half of respondents (55 percent) said they believe most cars will have the ability to drive themselves by 2029. Those that didn’t believe self-driving cars would arrive that soon cited reasons such as not wanting to give up driving, lack of trust, and technological issues, according to AAA.

While many companies are racing to deploy autonomous cars, it’s likely that they won’t achieve such widespread use by the end of the decade. The technology is still a work in progress, as are the regulations related to it. The companies with the most aggressive timelines for launching self-driving cars are also looking to use them for ride-hailing or delivery services, rather than to sell to individual owners. Anyone who wants to continue owning a car will have to drive it themselves.