Are Americans ready for self-driving cars?

Car manufacturers and tech companies say autonomous vehicles will soon hit the road, but drivers are still skittish.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer


Volvo is set to test self-driving cars on the streets of London.

Image: Volvo

Self-driving vehicles may be ready to hit the road in a matter of years, but U.S. drivers aren't yet comfortable with the idea, a new survey shows.

Nearly 46 percent of U.S. drivers surveyed in April said their preferred level of automoation is "no self-driving," according to a survey from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Another 38.7 percent said they prefer "some" self-driving, while 15.5 percent said the are ready for "completely" self-driving vehicles.

The poll, which surveyed 618 licensed drivers in the U.S., also found that 94.5 percent of respondents said they'd prefer it if self-driving cars have a steering wheel, as well as gas and break pedals.

The Research Institute has asked these questions before, and the study's authors noted in their abstract that overall public opinion has been "remarkably consistent" over the past two years, in spite of increased media coverage regarding self-driving cars.

Any new technology is sure to hit some bumps in the road, so it's understandable consumers would be skittish about it. Even so, automakers and technology companies alike are confident self-driving technology will deployed in just a matter of years. BMW, for instance, wants to have its first fully driverless vehicle on the roads within five years. Jim McBride, technical leader in Ford's autonomous vehicles team, similarly told ZDNet recently that the technology should be widely available in four or five years.

Yet as McBride pointed out, its application could take any number of forms. While U.S. drivers might not feel comfortable owning a self-driving car, they could test out the concept through a ride sharing service, or on public transportation. They could grow more accustomed to the vehicles as they watch self-driving delivery trucks populate roads.

Meanwhile, government regulations could address some of the concerns consumers have. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expected to release a set of policy guidelines for self-driving cars in July that should address questions of safety and issues like whether or not steering wheels should be required.

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