Human error is the main cause of car accidents that kill thousands every year. Does the public believe self-driving cars make roads safer? Not according to a recent poll.

How Recent Accidents Have Affected Public Opinion

A high-profile vehicle crash involving an Uber autonomous vehicle (AV) and a pedestrian occurred recently. Though that accident made news headlines for days, Uber is not alone when it comes to auto accidents involving AV’s. Last year a major automaker reported that its AV division experienced six accidents in just one month. As automakers and developers continue to research and test autonomous vehicles, some research shows that public opinion is starting to turn when it comes to the safety of AV technology, and the change of heart is not in favor.

Autonomous Vehicle-Related Accidents Cause Public to Lose Faith

Earlier this month, a large consulting firm released results from a nationwide poll that questioned more than 2000 adults on their opinion of safety when it comes to self-driving cars; the results were pretty startling when compared a similar poll that had been conducted just weeks prior. During the first poll, conducted in mid-January, 33 percent of those questioned said they believed autonomous vehicles were safer than vehicles driven by humans. In the same poll, 36 percent of those polled said they believed driverless cars were less safe.

When participants were asked the same question on March 29, a little over two months later, a staggering 50 percent of those questioned believed autonomous vehicles were less safe than those driven by humans; a 14-point jump in negativity in just a few weeks. What’s causing humans to question autonomous technology now? Well, news reports of more accidents occurring are having an impact, according to Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, an independent non-profit organization that advocates for auto safety, quality, and fuel economy. In an interview related to the recent polling, Levine stated:

“The idea is that this technology will make us safer — not as safe, but safer — and when there’s a demonstration of the possibility that that won’t be the case, that does tap into people’s concerns.”

The Uber crash made national headlines, but automaker Tesla also experienced a fatal crash last month with its Model X, which was on autopilot when the accident occurred. And, late last year, General Motors self-driving division known as Cruise Automation, reported that its test vehicles were involved in six accidents in September 2017 alone while testing in California. Thankfully, no injuries occurred in those crashes, but as a result, humans are now rethinking safety when it comes to autonomous vehicles.

Colorado Allows AV Tech on City Streets

In June of 2017, with the governor’s signing of Senate Bill 17- 213, it became law in Colorado to allow autonomous vehicles on state roadways if they meet all state and federal traffic laws. AV technology is not the only tech transformation taking place in the state. Back in 2015, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced a $20 million program called RoadX, with the goal of transforming Colorado’s transportation system into one of the safest and most reliable in the nation by utilizing emerging and advanced technology. While efficiency is a primary goal of developing technology, it is increasing safety on roads that developers hope to show the greatest impact.

A recent report from the research organization RAND Corporation notes that in 2016, human error, such as drunk driving and speeding, caused more than 90 percent of the auto accidents that killed more than 37,000 people. As researchers noted in the RAND study, technology is never drunk or distracted which means that fully functioning autonomous vehicles could have a huge impact on the number of annual auto accidents.

While the belief among researchers is that technology should reduce auto accident deaths and injuries, recent polls show it may take more time for the general public to get fully behind the idea of self-driving vehicles especially if accidents continue to happen.

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