Interested in self-driving cars? New survey shows that consumers aren't fully onboard

September 29, 2016

If you're a fan of autonomous vehicles, Kelley Blue Book's Future Autonomous Vehicle Driver Study, has good news and bad news. (If you don't like the thought of self-driving cars, just substitute "bad" for "good" below, and vice versa.)

The study was conducted in May and polled 2,264 Americans between the ages of 12 and 64. That might seem like a curious range, given that it includes many respondents who are too young to drive and leaves out many older motorists who've been sliding behind the wheel for decades. However, since fully autonomous cars aren't expected to roll into showrooms for another four or five years, it offers a good snapshot of how future drivers of those cars feel about self-driving technology today. 

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Anyway, as we said, the survey yielded good and not-so-good news for autonomous car buffs. Since it's Thursday, we're going start with the good.

  • A majority of respondents--63 percent, in fact--understood that autonomous cars will improve safety. 
  • A 60 percent majority also believed that networking cars (e.g. allowing them to talk to one another, to the grid, etc.) will make America's roads safer.
  • An impressive 51 percent said that they will either buy fully autonomous cars the second they're available (16 percent) or in time, when they become more comfortable with the idea (35 percent). That second, level-headed group is perhaps most interesting: they clearly understood that what seems outrageous today can become commonplace tomorrow.
  • On certain occasions, respondents said that they'd be especially likely to use autonomous vehicles--for example, when traveling at highway speeds (41 percent) or when out of town on vacation (39 percent).
  • When asked to choose the type of autonomous vehicle that offered the widest range of safety and comfort options, more respondents (30 percent) chose fully self-driving vehicles that offer the option for humans to drive. (Having no option to drive, however, was a big deterrent.)
  • Consumers who already had some experience with semi-autonomous features (like Tesla's Autopilot) were far less likely to think that humans should always have the option to drive (just 54 percent) compared to those without that experience (84 percent).
  • When presented with the scenario of fully autonomous vehicles being available by 2020, an impressive 59 percent said that they'd like to purchase something with advanced self driving features--though only 13 percent said that they wanted a fully autonomous car with no opportunity for human interaction.
  • Folks who use ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft were both more familiar with and more interested in self-driving vehicles. 

And now the bad:

  • Although consumers understood that autonomous cars would be safer for everyone on the road, 51 percent of respondents said that they wanted to retain complete control over their vehicles--even if doing so upped the risk of accidents. 
  • A sizable majority--80 percent--didn't like the idea of fully autonomous cars that offered no possibility of human input. They believed that human drivers should always have the ability to drive or take over. (However, when a potential driver was drunk, 59 percent relented and agreed that yes, fully autonomous with no human interaction would be best.)
  • Of those surveyed, 30 percent said that they'd never purchase a fully autonomous vehicle that prohibited human interaction.
  • Among all respondents, 62 percent didn't expect to live long enough to see a world of autonomous cars. As you might expect, that figure was highest among Baby Boomers (76 percent) and lowest among the youngest Generation Z respondents (33 percent).
  • Respondents were told about the Society of Automotive Engineers' rating scale for autonomous cars, which scores vehicles from zero to five based on their self-driving features (see the graphic above). Of those six levels, 87 percent of respondents said that levels one and two were safe, but only 47 percent viewed level five vehicles as safe, too.
  • One of the biggest turn-offs of autonomous cars--apart from some that may not allow human interaction--is their perceived price. Respondents assumed that the vehicles will be too expensive for them to purchase.

The biggest takeaway from all of that? Today's drivers want to continue driving, even if it's on a more limited basis. If the airline industry is any guide, chances are, they'll be able to do so.

The Future Autonomous Vehicle Driver Study has lots more data to sift through, if you have time. You can download a PDF of the findings here.

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