Self-driving cars promise a future of fewer accidents, less congestion and maybe even lower transportation costs. Yet for many Americans, the idea of driving alongside cars that are 100 percent computer-operated 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? Turns out, most people don’t think so.
A study conducted by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) shows that 64 percent of American consumers have concerns about sharing the road with driverless cars. Additionally, Brookings found that part of the problem is with technology in general. In fact, 26 percent of us don’t trust artificial intelligence to perform work, especially when we’re accustomed to doing the work ourselves.
Even though driverless cars have the potential to eliminate risks like speeding, drowsiness, distracted driving and drunk driving, most people still don’t trust them. That’s likely because the technology isn’t perfect (yet), and there are few regulations in place currently that ensure the public’s safety. A Twitter analysis of self-driving car posts showed that 20 percent of tweets alluded to the fact that self-driving cars are still in an experimental phase — and mentioned testing or pilot states like California and Arizona.
Self-driving Car Accidents Cause Image Problems for the Industry
Stories about autonomous vehicle crashes and fatalities cause mistrust among consumers. Simply staying out of driverless cars doesn’t allay those concerns, as 64 percent of the Advocates study respondents said they have concerns about driving alongside driverless cars. However, those fears may be overblown.
According to road test data in California, crashes involving self-driving cars are 10 times more common than conventional vehicles. But 88 percent of those accidents are a result of human-driven cars crashing into self-driving vehicles. While alternative vehicles (AVs) may create temporary disruptions as people become accustomed to sharing the road with robots, they’re not at fault for most accidents. And if an accident were to happen, AV manufacturer Tesla says their test results indicate that Model X drivers and passengers have a 93 percent chance of surviving without serious injury.
Perhaps given the minor nature of most AV crashes today, along with a promise to significantly reduce accident rates once mainstream, Congress recently proposed exempting driverless cars from the current federal safety standards — ones that auto manufacturers have followed for decades.
Mark Rosekind, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, declared that a driverless AV fleet should increase safety twofold in order to secure government approval. That would mean cutting out nearly 19,000 car accident fatalities per year. And many transportation experts believe AVs can do just that.
To expedite adoption of AV technology, some 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. However, today’s drivers aren’t quite ready for that.
This may be driven partly by a need for control. The Advocates study found 75 percent of consumers indicated that they are not comfortable with cars that would have inoperable safety systems under any circumstances. Similarly, a 2018 Esurance survey revealed that 83 percent of drivers couldn’t imagine giving up driving responsibility, even if it meant a more productive commute.
Safety Regulations Could Help Build Trust
Currently, the auto industry can choose whether to submit to “voluntary guidelines” provided by the Department of Transportation (DOT), but there are no compliance requirements.
To gain trust more quickly, manufacturers shouldn’t wait for new laws to add safety features. In fact, implementing the new technology before the DOT acts could be a great PR move. If manufacturers work closely with lawmakers to create safety standards for this new technology, they could foster an environment where transparency earns public confidence.
In a future world where driverless cars become the norm, people will trust the technology once they see lawmakers create guidelines and rules designed to keep them safe. Increased safety regulations and manufacturer compliance will likely result in more acceptance and ultimate adoption.
Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance. He is an innovator and a futurist who is constantly thinking about how self-driving cars will impact the auto insurance industry. You can learn more about Esurance’s auto insurance policies on their website.