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Study: Most Americans Not Thrilled About Autonomous Cars

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self-driving cars

Self-driving vehicle technology.

A new study by Kelley Blue Book finds that although 63 percent of those surveyed believe roads would be safer if most vehicles were fully autonomous, 64 percent of respondents would prefer to be in full control of a vehicle at all times. In addition, 80 percent of those surveyed would prefer to have the option of taking control whenever they want to.

Sonari Glinton writes for NPR that this study is appearing only a week after the United States Department of Transportation’s release of its guidelines for self-driving vehicles. He notes that Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and other safety advocates have said self-driving vehicles will reduce traffic accidents. And yet, according to 2016 Kelley Blue Book Future Autonomous Vehicle Driver Study, 51 percent of those surveyed said they prefer to have full control of their vehicles “even if it’s not as safe for other drivers.” 

Consumer Perceptions and Misperceptions

KBB commissioned the study, which was conducted by market research firm Vital Findings, to get a better understanding of consumers’ perceptions and misperceptions of autonomous vehicles and of the various stages of autonomy.

The survey was based on the responses of more than 2,200 U.S. residents between ages 12 and 64, weighted to Census figures by age, gender and ethnicity, and with a variety of residential and ownership patterns.

The Society of Automotive Engineers has categorized the various levels of autonomy as:

  1. Driver Assistance: This includes systems such as lane assist, anti-lock brakes, and even navigation systems.
  2. Partial Automation: The car takes partial control but driver keeps hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
  3. Conditional Automation: The vehicle steers, accelerates, and decelerates but the driver must be able to take control.
  4. High Automation: When put into drive mode, the vehicle is in charge of all aspects of driving and doesn’t require human monitoring.
  5. Full Automation: Full performance by the vehicle, with no provision for human intervention.

Acceptance of Autonomous Cars Varies

The study finds that 6 out of 10 respondents say they know little to nothing about autonomous vehicles. And 62 percent say they do not think they will live to see a world in which all vehicles are completely autonomous.

The youngest group surveyed, Gen Z (people 12-15 years old), are most on-board with the technology. Sixty-seven percent of Gen Z respondents believe they will see fully autonomous vehicles in their lifetime, and consider themselves the most educated about autonomous vehicles. They are also the most comfortable of the age groups surveyed, with 79 percent feeling the safest with the technology.

Another group surveyed, the owners of luxury vehicles, are also more aware of the higher levels of autonomous vehicles, with 60 percent of them knowledgable of Level 5, compared with only 39 percent of the groups surveyed. By contrast, 30 percent of survey respondents who owned non-luxury vehicles were interested mostly in Level 3.

According to the study, early adopters who have first-hand experience riding in fully self-driving vehicles (Level 5) have high opinions of safety and comfort, and are the group that most looks forward to buying the cars when they are available. If there were vehicles at all five levels of autonomy available for purchase by 2020, the study finds that 59 percent of consumers would probably purchase a Level 3 or higher vehicle.

Volvo: Autonomous in Five Years

In a related news item, Volvo has announced that it plans to sell a self-driving car in five years, according to Although the car will have a steering wheel, for $10,000, buyers will be able to get a full autopilot system that allows the car to drive itself.

Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson said the company is working on early versions of the cars, which will be tested in Sweden on public roads in 2017, and then in the United Kingdom and China in 2018. The company is also working with ride-sharing company Uber to develop shared autonomous vehicles.

Image by Odoroaga Monica/123RF.


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