How Fear of Self-Driving Cars is Decreasing

As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) continue to crop up in everything from robot vacuums to customer-service chatbots, attitudes have changed toward self-driving cars. While a hefty 78 percent of American drivers were afraid of riding in a fully self-driving vehicle in early 2017, only 63 percent felt the same way a year later.

The statistics come from an ongoing AAA study that annually reviews attitudes toward self-driving vehicles every year. The most recent results were released in January 2018.

Self-Driving Attitudes by the Numbers

  • 28 percent: American drivers who would trust a self-driving vehicle
  • 73 percent: Women who fear self-driving cars
  • 52 percent: Men who fear self-driving cars
  • 68 percent: Baby boomers drivers who fear self-driving cars
  • 70 percent: Generation X drivers who fear self-driving cars
  • 49 percent: Millennial drivers who fear self-driving cars
  • 46 percent: American drivers who would feel less secure on the road if they were driving a traditional vehicle while sharing the road with a self-driving car

While the general fear factor appears to be decreasing, so does the desire for automation in vehicles. In early 2017, a notable 59 percent of drivers said they would look for semi-autonomous vehicle technology in the next vehicle they purchased. Only 51 percent of drivers felt the same way in early 2018.

Self-Driving Vehicles in Action

For many anxious drivers, self-driving vehicles are something they hear about but may have yet to witness in action. That is, of course, unless you happen to live in Chandler, Arizona. This Phoenix-area region has been the testing ground for Waymo, a self-driving vehicle company founded by Google. The fleet of cars started with 100 and has since increased to 600.

In addition to increasing its fleet, Waymo has expanded its program in a few other areas. These include:

  • More testing done at night to increase nighttime data collection
  • More testing done on weekends
  • Testing in small areas on cars with no backup driver behind the wheel

Most of the Waymo vehicles still have a driver behind the wheel, even if the driver does nothing other than monitor what’s going on. Testing advancements have included moving the Waymo employee from the driver’s seat to the backseat to see how truly autonomous the vehicles are.

Forbes contributor and Chandler resident Robert Rapier regularly sees the Waymo vehicles in action, although he has yet to witness one without a backup human driver in the front seat. His overall observation is that the self-driving vehicles appear to be overly cautious; he would not be afraid to ride in one.

When it comes to people with driving fears, self-driving vehicles could help alleviate fears – or increase them. It depends on each individual and the root causes of his or her driving anxiety, fears and phobias.

One more notable statistic, however, could help with alleviating driving fears regarding self-driving cars. Of all the accidents in which the self-driving vehicles have been involved, 94 percent of them included some type of human error.