Consumers don't know what to make of self-driving cars

  • Tech News
  • Thursday, 26 Mar 2015

HARD SELL: Americans aren't sold on self-driving cars. – AFP/Relaxnews

HARD SELL: Americans aren't sold on self-driving cars. – AFP/Relaxnews

Although many can accept that autonomous vehicles could cut accidents caused by drunk driving or distractions and even increase productivity and leisure time, one third of US adults say that they would never consider buying or leasing one. 

Truly autonomous vehicles may well be some 20 years away from becoming an everyday reality, but the buzz around the technology has already reached deafening levels. 

To try and understand how this increasing media coverage is impacting consumer opinions, Harris Poll has surveyed a representative sample of 2,276 US adults and the results are surprising. 

Even though a number of active assist systems are already appearing on cars on sale at the local dealership right now, including park and traffic jam assist features, there is no consensus among the general public as to whether this particular technological breakthrough is a good or a bad thing. 

Just under one in five (19%) feel that self driving cars are "insanely cool" and 22% would go as far as to say it's a technology they'd love to have on a future car, but 12% say that the whole subject is just "confusing." 

As for perceived benefits and drawbacks, the computing power needed to take over driving responsibilities is weighing heavy on some people's minds – 80% think that computer ‘glitches' are going to be an issue and 37% personal data breaches. 

A large percentage is also focused on costs – 69% think these cars will be more expensive to service and 45% think that insurance will cost more. Only 7% of respondents couldn't see any drawbacks, even when presented with a list of potential options. 

On the flipside, 25% of Americans can see no benefits in self-driving cars, while 30% cited better fuel economy and 21% more free time. 

A number of studies have highlighted how many accidents self-driving cars could prevent each year and a number of tech-focused companies in the industry, most notably Google and Tesla, have talked up how moving the human element from driving is the key to preserving life, yet there's no consensus on this point either. 

Over half (52%) of respondents think that self-driving cars are potentially dangerous for their occupants, while 57% think that self-driving cars are potentially dangerous to other road users and 61% think that they're dangerous for pedestrians. 

Yet conversely, 53% agree that the technology could reduce accidents caused by drunk driving and those caused by driver distraction and half think that it could mean an end to speeding tickets. 

With all of this in mind, the fact that one third of respondents said that they'd never own a self-driving car seems less surprising. 

Still, even though the technology is at en embryonic stage, there is already a clearly identified early adopter market – long distance commuters. 

Americans who drive more than 30 miles a day were the most positive about the technology – 27% of respondents in this group said it was a technology they'd love to have and 23% pointed to increased productivity as a potential benefit. – AFP/Relaxnews