Most Americans are afraid of autonomous cars, even though many already drive them

March 2, 2016

A new study from AAA says that 75 percent of motorists are afraid of self-driving cars, and only 20 percent would trust an autonomous vehicle to chauffeur them around town.

The funny thing is, even though fully autonomous cars haven't yet rolled into showrooms, many drivers already own cars with autonomous features. Furthermore, AAA found that 61 percent of drivers want systems like automated braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist on their next car.

CHECK OUT: For the first time, Google admits its autonomous car is at fault in fender-bender

Their reasons for wanting those features vary by generation, and to some degree by sex. As AAA explains:

Baby Boomers are more likely to cite safety as a reason they want semi-autonomous features on their next vehicle (89 percent) than Millennials (78 percent).

Millennials are more likely to cite convenience (75 percent) and wanting the latest technology (36 percent) compared to older generations.

Women are more likely to cite reducing stress as a reason for wanting the technology (50 percent) than men (42 percent)

But what about the other 39 percent who don't want autonomous features on their next vehicle? According to AAA:

  • 84 percent believe that they can drive better than a computer (fun fact: they can't);
  • 60 percent believe that the technology is too new and untested;
  • 57 percent don't want to shell out the extra dough for it;
  • 50 percent say they don't know enough about it;
  • 45 percent say it's "annoying" (whatever that means).


AAA's findings jibe with other studies we've seen, and frankly, they're not especially surprising. Given how much trouble our laptops, desktops, smartphones, and tablets can give us, the idea of putting our lives in the hands of a computer on wheels traveling at 70 mph isn't exactly comforting. It's a big change, and it'll take some time to get used to. (News of the first accident blamed partially on an autonomous car isn't soothing anyone's nerves.)

But we will, of course, get used to it. As AAA John Nielsen explains, "With the rapid advancement towards autonomous vehicles, American drivers may be hesitant to give up full control. 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."

In other words, autonomous cars are following the same slow, stealthy roll-out as electric vehicles did. EVs arrived in phases, going from hybrids, to extended-range electric cars, to vehicles that rely on nothing but batteries. Over the next several years, self-driving cars will follow suit: all those little features like collision-avoidance, automated parking, and autopilot will slowly accumulate, until we wake up one day and realize, "Oh, our cars are driving themselves".

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