Americans Warming to Autonomous Vehicles

Fewer baby boomers fear riding in self-driving cars vs. last year

ORLANDO, Fla. -- American drivers are now more open to the idea of self-driving vehicles compared to one year ago, according to a new study from AAA.

An annual survey reveals that 63% of U.S. drivers report feeling afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle, a significant decrease from 78% in early 2017. Millennial and male drivers are the most trusting of autonomous technologies, with only half reporting they would be afraid to ride in a self-driving car.

“Americans are starting to feel more comfortable with the idea of self-driving vehicles,” AAA Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations Director Greg Brannon said. “Compared to just a year ago, AAA found that 20 million more U.S. drivers would trust a self-driving vehicle to take them for a ride.”

There remain many unanswered questions regarding infrastructure and usage. Will consumers be able to purchase autonomous vehicles directly or will the cars be tied to Uber-like ride-share services? Will self-driving cars fuel up primarily at convenience stores as conventional cars do today, or will they scurry away to a warehouse at night to charge? These questions and more will decide how c-stores and other automobile-focused industries are affected by the eventual rise of autonomous vehicles.

While riding in a fully self-driving vehicle is a futuristic concept for most, testing of these vehicles in the United States means that sharing the road with an automated vehicle is an increasingly near-term possibility. In this situation, drivers remain leery of self-driving vehicles. In AAA’s survey, only 13% of U.S. drivers report that they would feel safer sharing the road with a self-driving vehicle, while nearly half (46%) would actually feel less safe. Others say they are indifferent (37%) or unsure (4%).

Women (73%) are more likely than men (52%) to be anxious about riding in a self-driving vehicle, and more likely to feel less safe sharing the road with a self-driving car (55% vs. 36%).

Millennials are the most trusting of self-driving vehicles, with only 49% (down from 73% a year ago) reporting that they would be afraid to ride in an autonomous car. While the majority of baby boomers (68%) still report being afraid to ride in a self-driving car, this generation is significantly more comfortable with the idea than they were a year ago, when 85% reported being afraid.

Baby boomers (54%) and Generation X (47%) drivers are more likely than millennial drivers (34%) to feel less safe sharing the road with a self-driving car.

Although fears of self-driving vehicles appear to be easing, U.S. drivers report high confidence in their own driving abilities. Despite the fact that more than 90% of crashes are the result of human error, three-quarters (73%) of U.S. drivers consider themselves better-than-average drivers. Men in particular are confident in their driving skills, with eight in 10 considering their driving skills better than average.

“AAA found that American drivers are very confident in their driving abilities, which may explain some hesitation to give up full control to a self-driving vehicle,” Brannon said. “Education, exposure and experience will likely help ease consumer fears as we steer toward a more automated future.”

Orlando, Fla.-based AAA provides more than 58 million members with automotive, travel, insurance and financial services through its federation of 36 motor clubs and nearly 1,100 branch offices across North America.

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