Consumers Are Growing More Comfortable with Self-Driving Cars, Depending on What 'Self-Driving' Means
by Adam Felts
Even as their widespread appearance on public roads still seems like a distant event, self-driving cars have been in the public consciousness for many years. The MIT AgeLab’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Consortium has undergone a years-long effort to track and understand the public’s attitudes and perceptions toward autonomous vehicle technologies as they slowly begin to appear in the wild. AgeLab Research Scientist Chaiwoo Lee presented findings from this multiyear consumer survey for the 2022 Automated Road Transportation Symposium, or ARTS, which was held by the Transportation Research Board.
Over the six-year survey period, consumers have grown increasingly comfortable with vehicle automation technologies—but their comfort has boundaries. Respondents were far more likely to express comfort with driver assistance systems—which help the driver with operating a vehicle without taking over the driving task entirely—rather than partial or full self-driving.
The survey also compares levels of acceptance of autonomous driving based on relevant demographic factors. Perceived knowledge of the technology—as distinct from actual knowledge—was significant correlated with acceptance of the technology. A general willingness to adopt new technologies was also correlated with acceptance toward highly automated vehicles, suggesting that adoption attitudes transfer across domains of technology.
Dr. Lee also highlighted respondents’ purported knowledge of autonomous cars. According to survey findings, a sizable portion of consumers believe that fully automated, self-driving vehicles are already available for purchase or lease, or they will be within the next few years. These beliefs may indicate a widespread misunderstanding regarding fully automated, self-driving vehicles’ capabilities and benefits, as well as miscommunication around the terminology and definition. A term as seemingly straightforward as ‘self-driving’ may actually be understood in a variety of possible ways.