Fear of Riding in Autonomous Cars Rising as Accidents Increase

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【Summary】Despite the increase in autonomous vehicles on the road, the majority of drivers in the United States haven't showed interest in getting a ride in a driverless vehicles. As the number of accidents involving self-driving cars rises, even more drivers are becoming hesitant about autonomous technology.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Sep 09, 2018 12:00 PM PT
Fear of Riding in Autonomous Cars Rising as Accidents Increase

When it comes to autonomous vehicles, the majority of American drivers aren't too sure where to stand. Younger drivers that live in urban areas are more accepting of the technology, but older drivers that live in rural areas aren't crazy about the technology. The split in feeling towards driverless tech makes sense, but it's continuing to change. 

In March, the American Automobile Association (AAA) conducted a survey that found the majority of American drivers felt uncomfortable when it came to the idea of sharing the road with autonomous vehicles. A large margin of drivers, approximately 75 percent, stated that they were afraid of riding in an autonomous vehicle. AAA found that only 10 percent of drivers felt comfortable sharing the road with driverless cars. 

For automakers and technology companies that are pouring millions into autonomous technology, that's not a good thing. And things aren't getting better as all of the troubles autonomous vehicles are having gets primetime coverage. 

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More Surveys Reveal Drivers Are Hesitant Of Autonomy

According to a report by The Washington Post, two public opinion surveys were recently conducted and both of them reveal that there's a growing fear surrounding autonomous vehicles in the U.S. The first survey, which was conducted by Brookings Institution, found that 61 percent of Americans said that they were not inclined to ride in a driverless vehicle. 

The second survey, which was headed by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, had a similar turn out. In their survey, the organization found that 69 percent of surveyors had concerns about driving alongside autonomous vehicles. 

The lingering questions of why are drivers so afraid of autonomous vehicles are still in the air, especially as facts on how self-driving cars can make roads safer are everywhere. The Washington Post states that some statistics, like the fact that 94 percent of automobile-related crashes can be traced back to human error, are well known. Another well-known statistic is that the majority of automobile fatalities were caused by three factors: distracted driving, speeding, and drunk driving. These are all things that autonomous vehicles are expected to alleviate. 

The thing that the outlet points towards for the continued hesitance towards self-driving vehicles is the large number of recent incidents involving driverless cars. The most distressing incident involving an autonomous vehicle was Uber's fatal accident involving a pedestrian that took place earlier this year in March. There's been a lot of news coverage on that specific incident, but there have been numerous others that have caught everyone's attention. 

Another noteworthy incident involved a self-driving bus that crashed just two hours after being launched in Las Vegas. That accident got a lot of media coverage. Unfortunately, as The Washington Post states, the self-driving bus wasn't even at fault, as a truck backed into it, but outlets were quick to point out that a driverless machine had been involved in an incident. 

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Will A Federal Bill Help The Situation?

The other possible reason for the large amount of drivers stating that they're scared to take a ride in an autonomous vehicle and share roads with self-driving cars could be the lack of a bill or formal regulation of the machines. The outlet claims that the majority of drivers in the U.S. have been asking Congress, the Senate, and the government to take action on autonomous vehicles, but nothing has officially happened. 

The Washington Post claims that Americans believe some regulations on autonomous vehicles will be built into a "must-pass reauthorization bill" to fund the Federal Aviation Administration. That, though, isn't enough, as a coalition of consumer and safety groups have requested that the bill needs to be sent back to the drawing board to incorporate stricter regulations for autonomous cars. 

"We do believe the autonomous vehicle has tremendous potential, but if untested vehicles are let loose into the marketplace, you are going to potentially turn consumers off," Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, an association of nonprofit consumer organizations, told the outlet. "We are going to slowly turn consumers farther and farther away from the potential of good that the autonomous vehicle can do." 

The lack of government regulation is leading to a tricky situation for the public. "Self-driving vehicles are already operating on our roads today – they're not waiting to see whether or not Congress passes our bill to enhance safety," stated Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.). According to Hill, the bipartisan bill is the "beginning and not the last word on statutory rules for self-driving vehicles." 

The issue with the bill being a "beginning" is that there are a lot of things that need to change. The Washington Post claims that a recent conference call with reporters, individuals from consumer and safety groups, law enforcement, and universities all voiced concerns over the AV Start Act. 

"Right now, the technology is in the testing phase, and there are far more concerns and questions than there are data-driving conclusions," said J. Thomas Manger, the chief of police in Montgomery County, Md. "Instead of rushing this to a vote, let's get it right the first time." 

The unfortunate thing is that the government wants to rush something out as its fallen behind of getting ahead of autonomous-vehicle testing. Now, in its rush to get something out there to get things under control, individuals are worried that the rushed bill won't cover all of the necessary bases. 

"The Senate must put the brakes on this bill," said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "There is no good reason for the Senate to move forward with this bill as currently written." 

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