SALT LAKE CITY — A recent survey found drivers are still largely uncomfortable with the idea of a self-driving vehicle, following the trend in other studies in recent years.
Just 14% of drivers said they would be comfortable in a self-driving vehicle while another 86% said they would feel scared to ride in one, according to the AAA survey. However, 58% said they'd be interested in driving assistance systems, like automatic emergency braking, in their next vehicle.
The hesitancy for the new technology comes from a lack of exposure and knowledge about self-driving cars, according to Aldo Vazquez, an AAA spokesperson.
In 2017, a self-driving public shuttle launched in Las Vegas, and data showed that after people rode in the shuttle, they left a 30% more favorable review of the technology Vazquez said.
"A lot of people know what self-driving vehicles are, but they haven't really experienced it; or they've seen it on TV, but they've never actually had the chance to sit in the backseat of a car where there's a vehicle that's driving itself," he added.
In 2019, Utah passed a bill allowing companies to test self-driving cars on Utah roads in an effort to lay the groundwork for future work in the growing area of autonomous vehicles.
Utah first began testing its self-driving bus as part of a joint effort between the Utah Transit Authority and the Utah Department of Transportation that year to explore new ways of public transport. During its nearly yearlong pilot program, the shuttle drove over 1,900 miles and hosted a total of 6,612 riders. Of those riders, 95% felt the shuttle would be a good addition to public transit and 98% felt safe riding on board. A total of 95% said they had a more positive attitude toward autonomous vehicles after their ride, according to UDOT.
However, a man was injured on Utah's shuttle in July 2019 after the vehicle came to an abrupt stop and he hit the floor. The program was cut a few months short, in early 2020, after a safety investigation was launched into the contracted company, EasyMile.
Despite the setback, the testing of autonomous vehicles continues to expand nationwide. In January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it was expanding the pilot initiative for automated vehicles to a full program. The project was designed to increase transparency and test the safety of vehicles. It logs data from participating states and companies in an online tool that shows how the automated driving systems did in on-road tests.
As far as safety goes, proponents of self-driving cars feel the technology has the potential to save lives, considering 94% of vehicle crashes are related to human error, according to the NHTSA. However, it's important to note the statistic refers to the critical reason for a crash, in other words the last failure in a chain of events leading to a crash; it does not assign fault.
Additionally, autonomous vehicles have the potential to advance accessibility for those unable to drive a car for a myriad of reasons, Vazquez noted.
Introducing and expanding upon automated features in cars is one way to start introducing drivers to the future of autonomous vehicles, according to Matt Alfano, vice president of mobility innovation for AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah.
"This experience will influence driver opinion of future vehicle automation and reinforces the need for automakers to improve vehicle technology by expanding testing and focusing on real-world scenarios," Alfano said in a statement.
For right now, it's important to continue doing research on the burgeoning technology and performing safety tests to inform policymakers about the road forward, Vazquez said.