Study shows that people have concerns about flying cars for some reason

April 18, 2017

Today, much of the auto industry is working to create electric cars that can drive folks to the grocery store and back again without a hint of human input. But a few companies are aiming higher--like, 36,000 feet higher--by developing flying cars.

It will shock you to learn that people have some concerns about that. 

To prove it, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle from the University of Michigan's Sustainable Worldwide Transportation program conducted an online survey of 508 American adults, all of whom were asked to share their opinions about flying cars. Here are some of the study's key findings:

  • More than one-third of respondents weren't even aware that flying cars are being developed. While 64.8 percent had heard of modern flying cars, 35.2 percent remained in the dark. Men were about 50 percent more likely to know about today's flying cars than women.
  • Nearly everyone was concerned about safety, and most were very concerned: Just 5.9 percent of respondents were "not at all concerned" about the safety of flying cars. A sensible 62.8 percent were "very concerned". The remainder fell in the middle. 
  • Collisions with other flying cars and bad weather were seen as the biggest safety hazards: Some 61.8 of those polled said they were "very concerned" about flying cars in crowded airspace, and 61 percent were "very concerned" about flying in poor weather. Flying at night and learning the ropes of flying weren't as alarming to respondents. 
  • Most still want an exit plan: Of those surveyed, a sensible 79.4 percent thought it was either "extremely important" or "very important" for flying cars to have parachutes. Just 4.5 percent said that the devices were "not at all important".
  • Faster travel is the biggest benefit: When asked about the advantages of flying cars, 75 percent said the biggest plus would be shorter travel times. "Fewer crashes" came in a very distant second at 9.8 percent.
  • Folks expect electric: When asked how flying cars will be powered, 59.8 percent said that they assumed that they'd be electric. Gas was second, with 20.9 percent. Solar, hydrogen, and "other" made up the rest.
  • Consumers assume flying cars will be long-ish distance, autonomous helicopters: Of those surveyed, most (43.5 percent) were interested in fully self-driving, self-flying vehicles. Interestingly, 83.1 percent believed that flying cars will employ vertical, helicopter-like takeoffs, and 61.8 percent believe that they'll seat between three and four people. In terms of range, more people said "400 miles" (41.3 percent) than other distances, which ran from 200 miles to 800 miles.
  • Respondents had a vaguely positive view of flying cars: An even 28 percent of those polled said that they had a "somewhat positive" view of flying cars. The second most popular answer, at 25.8 percent, was "neutral". 
  • Younger people were more excited about flying cars than older folks: The desire to ride in a flying car was notably higher among respondents between 18 and 29, who had a median score of 68 on a 0 (not interested) to 100 (totally interested) scale. Among those 65 and older, the median score was 50, a solid "neutral". 

Our take

Flying cars aren't really a thing...yet.

However, humanity has been interested in personal, airborne vehicles since the earliest days of the automobile. (If you count witches' brooms and flying carpets, the interest goes back much, much farther.) And based on what we know of history, when humans want something, they usually get their way.

Most of the flying cars we've seen in recent years aren't really "cars" in the conventional sense. The Terrafugia XF-T is one of the better known examples, and it's basically a plane with foldable wings. More recently, AeroMobil has promised to unveil its latest prototype this week in Monaco, but like the XF-T, it's more plane than car. (It's on the fugly side, too.)

Bottom line: despite the hype, we have serious doubts about the immediate future of flying cars. In 20, 30, or 50 years, perhaps the situation will be different, but for now, if you want to fly, you'll probably need to go commercial. And if you're flying United, bring a lawyer.  

You can read an abstract of Sivak and Schoettle's paper here.

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