Survey finds American motorists have become less wary of self-driving cars

One of the questions that remain as automakers continue working on autonomous vehicles is whether drivers trust them enough to surrender control. Self-driving cars hold the promise of a safer, more convenient future, and American drivers seem to be gradually embracing this technology. In a recent AAA survey, about two-thirds of drivers said they would feel afraid to ride in a self-driving car; this is a sizable drop from the three-quarters of drivers who felt that way a year ago. The survey also found that about half of drivers want autonomous tech in their next vehicle, and that drivers who already have such features are more likely to feel safe in a self-driving car.

Fear of riding in self-driving vehicles has lessened

  • 63% of drivers

    said they would be afraid to ride in a
    self-driving vehicle, down from 78% in 2017

  • 28% of drivers

    said they would trust a self-driving vehicle,
    up from 19% in 2017

  • There was a moderate gender gap in respondents: 73 percent of women said they'd feel afraid to ride in a self-driving car, compared to 52 percent of men. Split by age, 68 percent of baby boomers and 70 percent of Generation X said they’d be afraid, in contrast to 49 percent of millennials surveyed.

Many still fear sharing the road with self-driving cars

  • 46% of drivers

    would feel less safe driving a regular car alongside self-driving cars

  • 13% of drivers

    would feel more safe driving a regular car alongside self-driving cars

  • This question revealed a smaller gender gap: 55 percent of women said they'd feel less safe sharing the road with self-driving cars, more than the 36 percent of men. There was a larger generational split, though, as 54 percent of baby boomers and 47 percent of Gen Xers would feel less safe, versus only 34 percent of millennials.

Despite fears, drivers want autonomous tech

  • 51% of drivers

    want autonomous tech in the next
    vehicle they buy or lease

  • 23% of drivers

    aren't sure whether they want
    autonomous tech in their next vehicle

  • While fear of autonomous tech has dampened, many drivers appear hesitant to give up control of a vehicle. This may be attributed to driver confidence: 73 percent of drivers felt their driving abilities are above average.

Familiarity with autonomous tech leads to trust

  • AAA found that drivers of vehicles equipped
    with semi-autonomous driver assistance features are

    75% more likely

    to say they trust autonomous technology

Key takeaways from the survey

  • Many drivers aren't ready to give up control completely

    While they’re eager to get their hands on semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control, many motorists don’t yet trust new technology to keep them safe without a human at the wheel.
  • The adoption of self-driving vehicles will be gradual

    Between the remaining technological hurdles, the need for new regulations, and the slow turnover of existing car inventory, self-driving cars will be introduced slowly, giving drivers time to adjust.
  • First-hand experience will be key to easing fears

    Seeing autonomous tech in action builds trust. AAA’s survey found that drivers who own vehicles with autonomous systems like adaptive cruise control were 75 percent more likely to trust such features.
Information taken from “More Americans Willing to Ride in Fully Self-Driving Cars,” January 24, 2018, American Automobile Association.