Study: Americans Slow to Accept Autonomous Driving

July 20, 2020
A study spearheaded by evolving technology experts at Myplanet shows American adults are still fairly uncomfortable with the thought of sitting in a driverless vehicle.

July 20, 2020—Jason Cottrell and his employees have spent recent months gauging U.S. citizens' comfort when it comes to embracing self-driving vehicles. What they found is that, when it comes to adapting to autonomous vehicles, Americans are largely stuck in a "trough of disillusionment." 

In other words, interest in self-driving vehicles has waned for many Americans as the technology has, in some peoples’ opinion, failed to deliver on its early hype. 

"The trough of disillusionment relates to the adoption of new technology," noted Cottrell, the CEO of Myplanet. "Lots of times, new technology gets hype, then it runs its course, and then there's a trough of disillusionment where we get a little bored with the new technology." 

The self-driving movement certainly hasn't been helped by well-documented incidents like an accident that took place in the Phoenix area in early 2018, when an Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian. 

Nevertheless, Cottrell and his employees—which largely comprise a team of artificial intelligence experts (Cottrell has aided automation solutions for clients such as Google)—feel Americans will accept autonomous vehicles eventually. Yet, a recent survey they conducted shows there's work to be done in that regard, considering their findings indicated that self-driving vehicles made 85 percent of the people they surveyed "uncomfortable." In fact, the survey showed that self-driving cars were the most disliked automation technology available these days. 

"Of the items that we surveyed, autonomous (driving) in America really ranked right at the bottom," Cottrell told FenderBender. "It starts to really indicate what (we) can expect in the next one to two decades. 

"American society is not ready for the concept of autonomous transport. ...We're nervous as a society right now (about autonomous driving). The technology is far more ready than we are ready for it." 

The aforementioned survey was conducted in two parts—once in April 2020, and with further data collected in June. Approximately 3,000 Americans were surveyed by Myplanet, with a sample across multiple regions and with age demographics up to the age of 75.  Cottrell and company found that the age group most receptive and open to autonomous driving consisted of 18- to 35-year-olds. 

Other noteworthy survey findings included: 

  • Just 9.9 percent of female survey respondents indicated that they feel comfortable interacting with the autonomous form of technology. 
  • Respondents age 56-64 are the least likely to feel comfortable (7.2 percent), whereas respondents age 25-34 are most likely to feel comfortable (31.5 percent). 

However, Cottrell noted, some forms of autonomous vehicle technology, like using a vehicle's adaptive cruise control function, were largely accepted by Americans. 

Cottrell, who is a believer in autonomous driving, said his company plans to conduct similar follow-up surveys in the years ahead. And, the Myplanet CEO is interested to observe how, or if, Americans shift their acceptance of autonomous driving within the next five years or so. 

He's confident that Americans will warm to the idea of self-driving vehicles once they see them utilized more often on roadways, be that in the form of autonomous semis or street sweepers, for example. 

Cottrell also feels that, once automakers begin to offer more exciting, captivating self-driving vehicle features, the public at large will likely become more accepting of the technology. 

"That's the tipping point—some kind of extremely compelling feature, like, that my car takes itself to get its oil change for me," Cottrell said. "The company that cracks that has cracked something big. We're waiting for that moment."