The AAA recently released a public opinion survey about safety and driverless cars.
Americans are not known for prioritizing road safety. No state currently bans all cell use phone behind the wheel, and two states still allow drivers to text. In addition, the United States consistently lags behind other developed nations, according to the Paris-based International Transport Forum, an intergovernmental organization within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
But when it comes to developing advanced self-driving technology, consumers prefer to focus on improving safety systems first, which will ensure better protections for driverless cars in the future.
Those are the highlights of a new public opinion survey of people’s attitudes toward emerging vehicle technology released on Thursday by the AAA automotive group that found that fine-tuning safety first is key to public acceptance of self driving cars.
“People are ready to embrace new vehicle technology, especially if it will make driving safer,” Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations, said in a statement. “Consumers are clear about what they want and if automakers seize the opportunity to provide a better experience now, it will pave the way for the vehicles of tomorrow.”
The recent annual survey of just over 1,000 adults, conducted predominantly online but also over the phone in January, 2021, found that only 22% of drivers said they felt manufacturers should focus on developing self-driving vehicles. Most respondents (80%) said they wanted current vehicle safety systems, like automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assistance, to work better and more than half—58%—said they wanted these systems in their next vehicle. The findings, the automotive group said, “signal that people are open to more sophisticated vehicle technology, which if they provide positive experiences for drivers, will open the road to self-driving vehicle acceptance.”
Consumers who buy new vehicles will likely have at least one type of safety system, the AAA said, noting that nearly 96% of 2020 vehicle models came equipped with at least one advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), like automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning or lane keeping assistance.
Previous research by the automotive group indicated that some systems, especially those that offer the highest level of automation available to the public, don’t always work as expected. Those findings, it said, reinforce the need for manufacturers “to continue to hone vehicle technology by expanding testing and focusing on including more real-world scenarios.”
While interest in owning a car with more advanced technology grows, Americans are still struggling to “warm up to the idea” of full vehicle automation, the survey found: 14% of drivers said they would trust riding in a vehicle that drives itself, but 86% either said they would be afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle (54%) or are unsure about it (32%).
In addition, the survey found that Covid-19 had little impact on driver’s opinions. When asked if the pandemic influenced their decision to use a self-driving car as an alternative to public transportation or ride-hailing, most (42% and 41% respectively) said it made no difference.
The automotive group noted that while self-driving vehicles are still years away from being available to individuals, as testing on public roads expands, drivers will likely have more opportunities to interact with various levels of new vehicle technology.
“Transparent, accurate and frequent information from the industries involved in developing self-driving vehicles will ease consumer concerns,” Brannon added.
For more information about the survey, click here.
Tanya Mohn covers road safety and consumer travel issues for Forbes. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times, and has reported for the BBC, NBC News, ABC