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Transport / Mass transit

The US public still doesn't want driverless cars

You may remember that we once ran a piece about a fake town built on the University of Michigan campus purely for the purpose of testing self-driving cars. (It’s great. Go look.)

Ironically, it’s from this hub of self-driving car excitement that we heard some worrying news this week. For a couple of years now, researchers Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak at the university’s Transportation Research Institute have been carrying out surveys on how the public feels about automating cars. The results? Not so good.

Respondents this year were given the same survey used in 2015, and overall said their preference for car automation was, well, no automation at all. In second place was “partially self-driving vehicles”, while proper self-driving cars were the “least preferred choice”. 

The researchers also point out that the results have remained largely the same year-on-year, despite the increasing presence of self-driving cars in the press:

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The general patterns of responses have not changed over the course of these two surveys, despite the increased media coverage of self-driving vehicles.

There are some caveats, of course. The Institute heard form 618 people via SurveyMonkey, an online survey tool. According to the survey’s write-up, “the distributions of respondents by age and gender are closely matched to the latest U.S. Census population distributions”, but it still would have skewed towards computer-literate people with the time and inclination to fill out an online survey.

In a way, though, that makes the conclusions even more worrying. If tech-literate people are still suspicious of automation, then your 90-year-old grandmother is even less likely to approve. Looks like while the tech is nearly there, it’ll be a long time before driverless cars get the approval of the public – and without public trust, there’s no market. 


 


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