Americans are afraid of autonomous cars

In January of this year, AAA conducted a phone survey of nearly 2,000 drivers over the age of 18 and found some surprising results: 75 percent of respondents “would be afraid to allow an autonomous vehicle to drive itself with them in it.” Another 20 percent were cool with the idea, leaving 5 percent who are apparently abstaining in favor of waiting for flying cars.

We’ve got a few years to adjust to the idea of fully autonomous vehicles like Google’s test car driving us around without any human input. In the meantime, we do have advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), which are semi-autonomous, coming to market as we speak. About half of the respondents in AAA’s survey trusted lane-departure warning and lane-keeping systems, as well as adaptive cruise control. Only 44 percent trusted the automatic emergency braking systems that will be included on all new models by 2022, and a mere 36 percent trusted self-parking systems.

Not surprisingly, people who already have these systems in their cars are far more likely to trust them. The numbers jump by 25-30 percentage points for respondents who have used the technology in their own vehicles; for instance, 84 percent of people with lane keeping trust it, versus 50 percent of those who don’t have it in their cars.

While fully autonomous vehicles still worry most of us, we do want the ADAS features mentioned above in our next cars if we don’t have them now, according to the survey. But we don’t all want these features for the same reasons. Baby boomers cited safety as their reason for wanting semi-autonomous technology, while millennials wanted convenience and the latest technology. Interestingly, women were more likely to say they wanted these features to help reduce stress.

For those grumpy holdouts against even ADAS tech, more than 8 in 10 said it was because they are better drivers than any robot overlord. (The AAA study on parallel parking would beg to differ with these folks.) Another big slice of the respondent pie, especially younger drivers and drivers with kids of their own, said they didn’t want to pay extra for the technology. And women were more likely to cite not knowing enough about the technology or worrying that it would be too complicated.

No matter how worried people are today, these systems are going to become more and more common. As the survey shows, once drivers have experience with ADAS features, they trust them more. Once you trust lane keeping, it’s a short hop to trusting parallel parking systems. And from there, it’s only a matter of time before we’re comfortable watching VR movies in a vehicle without a steering wheel.