Study: 70 percent of Americans ready to try a driverless car

  • Americans may be far more ready to hop into a driverless car than anyone thought, according to a new survey by the Consumer Technology Association.

    Americans may be far more ready to hop into a driverless car than anyone thought, according to a new survey by the Consumer Technology Association. Washington Post photo by Brian Fung

Posted10/16/2016 7:17 AM

Americans may be far more ready to hop into a driverless car than anyone thought, according to a new survey by the Consumer Technology Association.

The CTA questioned 2,001 people and found that 70 percent of them were ready to test-drive an autonomous car and almost as many were interested in replacing the car they own, lease or rent with a vehicle that drives itself.


The survey caught people in a much more adventurous and optimistic mood than several other polls, including some taken as recently as last month.

It was sharply at odds with a University of Michigan survey in April that found fewer than 16 percent of people were agreeable to having completely self-driving cars. That poll, done online, as was the CTA survey, found that 46 percent of drivers didn't want any self-driving features and 39 percent wanted no more than partial capabilities.

The Michigan survey of 618 people found that 37 percent were very concerned about riding in a driverless car; only 10 percent said they were not worried about doing so. More than 90 percent of them said they wanted a vehicle equipped with a steering wheel and pedals, regardless of its capabilities.

The auto rating company Kelley Blue Book released a survey last month in which 51 percent of people said they wanted to retain full control of their vehicle, even if driving themselves wasn't as safe as an autonomous car.

The Kelley survey also determined that about 60 percent of people admitted they knew little or nothing about driverless cars and didn't think they would live to see a day when all cars on the road were fully autonomous.

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"Consumers are, generally speaking, unfamiliar with and uncomfortable with, the concept of an autonomous vehicle driving them around," said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kelley. "When we find out that only 41 percent of the people are even familiar with the term 'autonomous vehicle' or 'autonomous car', I think that says a lot."

But among the people surveyed who currently drove cars with driver-assist features, he said there was much greater acceptance of what's to come.

"They are much more ready to believe in a near-term autonomous future, they're much more comfortable with a near-term autonomous future," Brauer said. "What that tells me is that once you do any kind of exposure to this technology, you rapidly do get comfort and confidence and belief in this technology."

In perhaps the most substantive of the surveys, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) followed up an online survey in Austin with 44 face-to-face interviews last year, talking with both drivers and non-drivers, and with a wide range of ages.


That one found a 50-50 split, with 36 percent of people enthusiastic about self-driving cars and 18 percent saying they were extremely unlikely to set foot in one.

"My thinking on that is that as people learn more, that will sway them one way or the other," said Johanna Zmud, a TTI research scientist who co-authored the study. "My personal opinion is that [enthusiasm is] probably going to get larger as people come to understand the benefits of the technology.

Just when the first assembly-line production autonomous vehicles will roll off the factory floor is a reasonable question. Google already has driven its test cars for more than 1.8 million miles on the roadways. Uber is staging a reality test in Pittsburgh, carrying passengers in cars that come with chaperones who can take the wheel when necessary.

Automakers have a variety of projections that include the early 2020s. Two things, however, are certain: even if the cars roll out to immediate public embrace, it still will take decades of turnover before they rule the roads. And some of the current visionary thinking about the cars will fall by the wayside, leapfrogged by unforeseen advances in technology.

"Clearly, drivers are getting more and more excited about everything that driverless cars will offer us," said CTA President Gary Shapiro. "Generally, consumers become more comfortable with innovations as the benefits become more apparent, easing their initial concerns."

The CTA survey revealed that 82 percent were pleased with the potential for reduction in driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and aggressive driving. Almost as many said they would welcome lower insurance rates.

"We were aware of other studies in this area, and therefore decided to undertake our own research, framing the topic in a neutral way," said CTA research vice president Brian Markwaiter. "When we asked drivers whether they were interested in replacing their current car or truck with a completely self-driving vehicle, a clear majority said they were. Those results are clear and unambiguous."

With the big auto companies planning to inch closer to fully autonomous cars by gradually introducing driver-assist features, the CTA survey found that about 80 percent of drivers had tried or heard of adaptive cruise control, automatic parking assistance, collision avoidance systems and lane departure warnings.

"Consumers want to see for themselves what these driverless innovations have to offer," Markwaiter said. "And the driver assistance features already on the market may be sparking the excitement, as more drivers experience the safety and convenience these new features provide."

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