Americans are becoming more afraid of automated vehicles, and many misunderstand the capabilities of driver-assist technology, according to a survey released Thursday.
The share of respondents who described themselves as afraid to ride in automated vehicles jumped to 68 percent this year in the American Automobile Association’s annual automated vehicle survey, from 55 percent in the previous year. The survey canvassed roughly 1,000 American adults.
“We were not expecting such a dramatic decline in trust from previous years,” said Greg Brannon, director of automotive research for AAA. Still, “with the number of high-profile crashes that have occurred from overreliance on current vehicle technologies, this isn’t entirely surprising.”
The results come as automakers equip vehicles with more advanced driver-assistance features that have grown from automatic emergency braking to sophisticated cruise-control systems that allow for some hands-free and foot-free driving.
Several companies have had to grapple with injurious and sometimes fatal crashes, government probes and lawsuits tied to autonomous and driver-assist technology over the last few years.
In March 2022, a Cruise automated vehicle braked while traveling downhill as a cyclist approached from behind in San Francisco. The cyclist struck the rear window of the Cruise, fell to the ground and sustained “serious” injuries, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In May, a Waymo-operated automated semitruck and trailer struck another semitruck and trailer in Ennis, Texas, and “an individual involved in the crash was transported from the scene to a hospital for medical treatment,” according to data from NHTSA.
Last month, a Tesla driver died after colliding with a fire truck in California. While it’s not yet clear if the driver was using Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system, Autopilot, the case mirrors others in which Tesla’s driver-assist technology failed to detect parked emergency vehicles, and NHTSA has asked the company for more information.
NHTSA is investigating possible defects with Tesla’s Autopilot system related to collisions with emergency vehicles, and last month Tesla recalled nearly 363,000 cars equipped with or awaiting installation of its “Full Self-Driving” beta software. The software provides various driver-assist and safety features but requires drivers to be responsible for the operation of their vehicles at all times.
The survey also illustrated some misunderstanding of driver-assist technology. One in 10 drivers said they thought they could purchase vehicles that can drive themselves while the driver is asleep. No such vehicle is on the market, and the survey release suggested that response could be related to “misleading or confusing names of vehicle systems” that are sold today, like Tesla’s “Autopilot,” Volvo’s “Pilot Assist” and Nissan’s “ProPILOT.” AAA said 22 percent of the respondents believe names like these describe features that allow the car to drive itself without any human supervision.
Still, most people who responded to the survey would “definitely” or “probably” want driver-assist technology such as automatic braking and blind-spot warning in their next car purchases despite their fear and confusion.