Study: People Don't Want Autonomous Cars To Do All The Driving

July 16, 2015

By now, everyone seems to understand that autonomous cars are the way of the future. Self-driving vehicles promise to reduce the number of automobile accidents on our roads, keep traffic humming along, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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But according to Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, there's one group of people who aren't all that excited about autonomous vehicles -- namely, drivers. (City administrators aren't too amped either, but you already knew that.)

Schoettle and Sivak conducted an online survey of 505 licensed drivers to gauge their thoughts about autonomous vehicles. The biggest takeaways?

  • When respondents were asked about the degree of self-driving capabilities they'd like to see in autonomous cars*, a whopping 43.8 percent said that they didn't want to see any self-driving capability at all. Another 40.6 percent said that they'd like to see vehicles that were partially self-driving. Only 15.6 percent said that they wanted vehicles to be entirely autonomous.
  • Interestingly, women were most likely to prefer the "no self-driving" option. On the whole, 47.6 percent of women surveyed said that they'd rather cars didn't drive themselves at all. Among men, partially self-driving vehicles proved most popular, at 41.2 percent.
  • Though older respondents were least excited about fully autonomous vehicles, even young drivers were wary of the technology. Among respondents 60 and older, 50 percent said that they didn't want any self-driving capability in their car, while just 11 percent said that full autonomy was a-okay. Among those 18 to 29, 37.5 percent turned up their noses at completely autonomous vehicles, while 17.1 percent were onboard with the idea.
  • Given those responses, it's not surprising that 96.2 percent of those polled wanted "to have a steering wheel plus gas and brake pedals (or some other controls) available in completely self-driving vehicles". That attitude held steady among men and women, the young and old.

Our take? The survey size seems a bit small to be definitive, but at the very least, it points to some interesting attitudes about autonomous cars.

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Most importantly, people clearly overestimate their driving abilities. It may seem scary or weird to let a car drive itself around town, but the data shows that human drivers can't do any better. In fact, accidents seem far more prone to happen when humans are in control of a car. This tension between facts and feelings is undoubtedly going to be one of the major hurdles that automakers have to overcome in selling autonomous vehicles to a nervous public.

Are you afraid of self-driving cars? Do you think you can drive better than a computer? Or are you ready to kick back and let your car handle the commute? Sound off below.

For an abstract of the UMTRI study, check this PDF.


* For clarity's sake, here's how UMTRI phrased the question:

Vehicle manufacturers are considering using one of three levels of automation in future vehicles. Which level would you prefer to have in your personal vehicle?

  • Completely self-driving. The vehicle will control all safety-critical functions, even allowing the vehicle to travel without a passenger if required.
  • Partially self-driving. The driver will be able to hand over control of all safetycritical functions to the vehicle; only occasional control by the driver will be required.
  • No self-driving. The driver will always be in complete control of all safety functions, but the driver will be assisted with various advanced technologies.


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