Even though human drivers cause millions of deadly crashes every year, they’re wary of self-driving cars that are less than perfect. Picture: SUPPLIED
Even though human drivers cause millions of deadly crashes every year, they’re wary of self-driving cars that are less than perfect. Picture: SUPPLIED

Seven out of 10 Americans are still scared to ride in fully self-driving vehicles, an American Automobile Association (AAA) study has found.

A year after a number of high-profile autonomous-vehicle incidents, AAA’s annual automated vehicle survey found that 71% of people are still afraid to ride in them compared to 63% the year before.

The previous study took place before an Uber self-driving test vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian at night in Arizona, US. In recent years there have also been two reported deaths of drivers who crashed while using the partial-automation Autopilot mode in their Teslas.

AAA believes the key to helping consumers feel more comfortable with fully self-driving vehicles will be bridging the gap between the perception of automated vehicle technology and the reality of how it actually works in today’s cars.

“Automated vehicle technology is evolving on a very public stage and, as a result, it is affecting how consumers feel about it,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “Having the opportunity to interact with partially or fully automated vehicle technology will help remove some of the mystery for consumers and open the door for greater acceptance.”

Self-driving cars could have a major impact on reducing road deaths, but even though human drivers cause millions of deadly crashes every year, they’re wary of self-driving cars that are less than perfect. “If we only accept autonomous cars when there’s zero probability of an accident, then we will never accept them,” Dr Peter Stone, associate chair of computer science at UT Austin, was quoted as saying by Singularityhub.com.

“Yet we give 16-year-olds the chance to take a road test with no idea what’s going on in their brains.”

Experience seems to play a key role in impacting how drivers feel about automated vehicle technology. Many cars on the road today are equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) which are stepping stones towards fully self-driving vehicles. AAA’s most recent survey revealed that regular interaction with ADAS components like lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and self-parking significantly improves consumer comfort levels.

On average, drivers who have one of these four ADAS technologies are about 68% more likely to trust these features than drivers who don’t have them.

Even more promising, AAA found that Americans are receptive to the idea of automated vehicle technology in more limited applications. About half (53%) are comfortable with low-speed, short distance forms of autonomous transportation like people movers found at airports or theme parks while 44% are comfortable with fully self-driving vehicles for delivery of food or packages. However, once the passengers become more personal — in particular, transporting their loved ones — only one in five remain comfortable.

“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,” continued Brannon. “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.”

ADAS technology has made major strides in recent years with features such as automatic cruise control and lane-keeping aids, once the preserve of expensive luxury cars, now filtering down into mainstream cars.

While fully self-driving vehicles may still be some time away, the number of more highly automated vehicles on our roads is expected to grow significantly in the next few years. The more drivers understand both the benefits and limitations of the technology that is currently available, AAA believes the more prepared and receptive they will be for the experience of riding in a fully automated vehicle when the time comes.