Americans are nervous about driving alongside cars that are 100% operated by computers. For many, the idea belongs in a science fiction movie. Could a vehicle really move from point A to point B efficiently, safely, and with the same ability to make good decisions as a human? We don't think so.
Autonomous vehicles are a big part of our future on the road. Instead of slowly getting used to the idea, the general public's distrust of self-driving cars is growing. AAA released the results of a studyconducted in April of 2018 showing that 73% of drivers in America are afraid to ride in an autonomous car. That number is up since the 2017 results, where 63% of people polled said they felt afraid to ride in a driverless car.
A similar study conducted by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety shows that 64% of American consumers have concerns about being on the road with driverless cars. The top reasons behind car accidents caused by human drivers include speeding, drowsiness, distracted driving, and drunk driving. While driverless cars eliminate those risks, their technology isn't perfect.
Self-driving car accidents cause image problems for the industry
Congress recently proposed exemptions from current federal safety standards that manufacturers have followed for decades. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety study shows concern among drivers about these mass exemptions for driverless cars. 63% of study participants said they aren't OK with Congress allowing driverless cars on the road unless they meet the same safety regulations as other vehicles.
Certain driverless car manufacturers want to be able to disable controls like the brake and gas pedals as well as the steering wheel when the car is in self-driving mode. 75% of consumers indicated that they are not comfortable with cars that would have inoperable safety systems under any circumstances.
It's not enough to stay out of driverless cars, however. 64% of study respondents said they have serious concerns about operating their vehicle alongside driverless cars. Americans have well-founded concerns about the honesty of automakers and DOT regulators as a result of recent mass recalls of millions of cars. As a result, Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers consistently indicate their support for federally mandated driverless car safety standards.
Stories about autonomous vehicle crashes and fatalities cause mistrust among consumers. An Uber SUV killed a pedestrian in Arizona in March of 2018. Elaine Herzberg was walking her bike across a street in Tempe when the vehicle, traveling 40mph in autonomous mode, struck her.
Just days later, a Tesla Model X in self-driving mode crashed into a highway median in Mountain View, California. The driver had his hands off the steering wheel for about six seconds before the collision. In June of 2017, the Model X received the first-ever five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Tesla says the test results indicate that Model X drivers and passengers have a 93% chance of surviving a crash without serious injury.
Safety regulations could help build trust
Automated driving systems are currently unregulated by federal motor vehicle safety standards. The industry can choose whether to submit to "voluntary guidelines" from the DOT, but there are no compliance requirements. If driverless car manufacturers choose to submit to those guidelines, they'll need to make sure the general public understands that safety is a high priority.
There aren't currently any rules in place ensuring that the human driver behind the wheel of an autonomous vehicle is alert enough to safely take over vehicle operation. 84% of study respondents want the DOT to enact laws that help to prevent a recurrence of the 2016 Tesla crash during which the driver became inattentive. Technology that would alert drivers to their over-reliance on the car's computer systems is readily available. Manufacturers of driverless vehicles don't have to wait for a new law. In fact, implementing the new technology before the DOT acts would be a great PR move.
To gain the trust of a skeptical pool of consumers, manufacturers of driver-less vehicles must work closely with lawmakers to create safety standards for this new technology. They must foster an environment where transparency earns public confidence. Legislators need to enforce the new rules in the interest of public safety.
It's clearly in vehicle manufacturers' best interests to work toward gaining the trust of the general public. The level of government oversight regarding accountability about the safety of driverless cars is severely lacking. In a future world where driverless cars become the norm, people won't trust the technology unless they witness lawmakers creating guidelines and rules designed to keep them safe. Without these laws in place, mistrust of companies developing and manufacturing autonomous vehicles will persist.
While driverless cars have the potential to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities someday, without the confidence and support of the general public, autonomous vehicles will remain feared and unwanted.
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