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Study Says 71 Percent of Americans Afraid to Ride in Autonomous Cars

Recent accidents haven't helped confidence.

About a year ago, AAA released a study that showed 63 percent of those surveyed said they would be afraid to ride in a fully self-driving car. Although still high, that figure showed a huge change over the previous year’s survey, in which fully 78 percent of people were uncomfortable with the idea. A series of highly publicized accidents involving automated prototypes occurred over the past year, and this may have played a part in AAA’s survey now showing an increase in the number of people afraid to ride in a completely driverless car. The figure is now at 71 percent.

AAA noted a few factors that influenced people’s comfort with some level of automation. The first is exposure to modern driver-assistance features such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Respondents who currently own a car with one of those features were 68 percent more likely to trust them than those who don’t. The second factor involved the technology being applied only in a limited capacity. A total of 53 percent were comfortable with the idea of using low-speed, short-distance automated transportation such as an airport train, while 44 percent said they would be comfortable with autonomous delivery vehicles.

“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 head 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.”

Interestingly, the study also showed that 55 percent believe that by 2029, most cars will be capable of driving themselves. As AAA points out, that’s probably overly optimistic. It also likely shows a widespread misunderstanding of how advanced the technology already is. Despite Tesla offering a “Full Self-Driving Capability” package, its cars can’t actually drive themselves. And while some prototype from various companies can handle suburban driving in cities with ideal weather conditions, the technology still can’t handle rain, much less snow. We also have yet to see any demonstration of a vehicle that can recover from hydroplaning or loss of traction on an icy road.