Americans’ Trust In Self-Driving Cars Dips In Past Three Months Following A Few Accidents

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Americans trust self-driving technology less than they did only months ago, according to AAA, a trend presumably stemming from multiple accidents involving such advanced vehicles.

Seventy-three percent of drivers in the U.S. told the American Automobile Association that they would be too scared to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle, in its most recent survey published Tuesday. That is up from 63 percent in late 2017, which was at the time a decrease in the fearfulness rate of 78 percent from early 2017.

“Despite their potential to make our roads safer in the long run, consumers have high expectations for safety,” Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations, said in a statement. “Our results show that any incident involving an autonomous vehicle is likely to shake consumer trust, which is a critical component to the widespread acceptance of autonomous vehicles.” (RELATED: Distracted Driving Is A Huge Problem And Autonomous Cars Could Help)

The relatively quick change in general opinion comes after Tesla vehicles using autopilot mode have been blamed for multiple accidents, some more recent than others. Perhaps most infamously, one of Uber’s self-driving cars fatally struck a pedestrian crossing a street in March. (RELATED: Uber Picks Up Former Top Gov’t Official To Help With Safety Following Fatal Driverless Car Accident)

The most precipitous drop in favorable opinion of the nascent and imminent technology is from the generation known as millennials, which comes as a surprise to AAA. Now, 64 percent of that age group (20-37 years) are too afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle, a 15 percent surge since the end of 2017. “Baby-boomers,” those aged 54 to 72, were the most likely to be so frightened as to prevent them from using a driverless car, with 85 percent responding so. When accounting for gender, women (85 percent) are more likely to be afraid than men (69 percent).

“While autonomous vehicles are being tested, there’s always a chance that they will fail or encounter a situation that challenges even the most advanced system,” said Megan Foster, AAA’s director of federal affairs. “To ease fears, there must be safeguards in place to protect vehicle occupants and the motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians with whom they share the road.”

Of course, there will always be a degree of accidents with autonomous vehicles, whether semi or full, just as there are such incidents with non-autonomous cars. The proportion for driverless collisions are more likely to be far lower. Some studies say they could reduce fatal traffic accidents by 90 percent — potentially saving $190 billion a year and 300,000 lives a decade — if fully embraced by consumers and regulators, and developed and implemented by the various companies racing to be the first.

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