CARS.COM — They say that “knowing is half the battle,” though that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to selling Americans on the safety of self-driving cars. Even amid an increasingly robust public discourse on the matter, motorists on average have no more faith in letting technology take the wheel than they did a year ago — and in some cases, maybe even a little less.
According to a just-released study by University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, the greatest preference among surveyed motorists was for cars to have no self-driving capability. That preference was followed by partially self-driving as the second most-common preference, while total automation was by far the least-popular option.
“Overall public opinion has been remarkably consistent over the two years that this survey has been conducted,” researchers noted in their report. “The general patterns of responses have not changed over the course of these two surveys, despite increased media coverage of self-driving vehicles.”
The percentages themselves are heavily weighted against self-driving vehicles. Of the more than 600 survey respondents across varied age, income and residency categories, 46 percent said they preferred no self-driving capability at all. Nearly all of today’s cars have some level of automation, however, making the 39 percent of respondents who prefer only partially self-driving vehicles a bit more in line with reality. Meanwhile, less than 16 percent prefer fully self-driving cars.
Generally speaking, the older respondents, the less amenable they were to vehicle automation, with more than 56 percent of people age 60 or older preferring no automation versus just 35 percent of 30- to 44-year-olds. Data showed no meaningful difference between the preferences of women and men overall, except when it came to the “completely self-driving” category, where 19 percent of men preferred full automation versus less than 12 percent of women.
Asked if the only vehicles available were completely self-driving, how concerned would they be about riding in such vehicles, 37 percent said they’d be very concerned, while less than 10 percent said they wouldn’t be concerned at all. Asked the same question, but pertaining to partially self-driving vehicles, only 17 percent said they’d be very concerned while nearly 34 percent said they’d be moderately concerned.
Nearly all motorists want at least the option to seize control of a self-driving vehicle if necessary. Around 95 percent reported wanting the availability of a steering wheel, gas pedal and brakes. That percentage was nearly consistent across all ages and genders.
When entering destination commands, the most popular input method among those surveyed was a touch-screen, the preference of 38 percent of respondents compared with nearly 35 percent for voice commands. If a self-driving car needs the driver to take control, the greatest alert preference by far was for a combination of sound, vibration and visual cues, at more than 59 percent.
Year-over-year comparisons showed that attitudes have changed little since the 2015 study. The 2016 preference of 46 percent for no self-driving compares to the 2015 figure of 44 percent, while the preference for total automation dipped by a tenth of a percent between the two years.