AAA: Self-Driving Cars Have a Messaging Problem

A new study by AAA finds that most Americans are afraid to ride in an automated vehicle. However, the association says that many modern cars have automation features that could help improve consumers' understanding of the technology.

As much potential as self-driving vehicles have in terms of shifting the way we get from point A to point B, consumers aren’t quite ready.

That’s according to a new study from AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association), which reports that roughly three-quarters of Americans are “afraid” of riding in an automated vehicle, with baby boomers and women more likely to express such a sentiment, according to the study [PDF]. As it stands, just one in five survey respondents would ride in an automated vehicle.

So. the bad news is that a lot of people haven’t prepared themselves for the potential ramifications of moving around without their hands on the wheel. But the plus side is that people who own cars with modern features that offer elements of automation, such as adaptive cruise control and emergency braking technology, tend to be more accepting of self-driving vehicles.

John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair, suggested that the gradual shift implied by smaller automations could come in handy down the road.

“With the rapid advancement towards autonomous vehicles, American drivers may be hesitant to give up full control,” Nielsen said, according to an AAA blog post. “What Americans may not realize is that the building blocks towards self-driving cars are already in today’s vehicles and the technology is constantly improving and well-trusted by those who have experienced it.”

Self-driving vehicles have experienced a number of accidents, however. Last year, the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute revealed that 50 automated vehicles in California had suffered from 11 reported crashes over the past year. Although none of the crashes led to significant injuries, none of the self-driving cars were at fault in any of the crashes, and the pool was minuscule compared with the more than 269 million traditional cars on the road, the rate of crashes was nonetheless five times the number of accidents reported among traditional vehicles.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), a trade group for vehicle automation that commonly addresses concerns about drones as well as self-driving cars, has argued that, when brought into the mainstream, such vehicles will play an important role in reducing dangers facing drivers on the road today.

“Every day in the United States, 42 lives are lost due to incidents involving distracted drivers or drivers under the influence of alcohol,” AUVSI argues in a fact sheet. “In both instances, a self-driving vehicle would have prevented these deaths from occurring.”

Ultimately, AAA’s Nielsen says that the car industry has some work to do to highlight these benefits.

“It’s clear that education is the key to addressing consumer hesitation towards these features, and AAA’s ongoing effort to evaluate vehicle technologies, highlighting both the benefits and limitations, is designed to help drivers make informed choices,” he added.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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