By Shannon Peters on April 10, 2017

car GPSThe American Automobile Association (AAA) recently released the results of a survey of American drivers which yielded an interesting conclusion:  Americans want autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies in their next vehicle, but they are not sold on fully self-driving cars.

The AAA survey indicates that 75 percent of Americans would be afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle, and more than half would feel less safe sharing the roads with a self-driving car. Not surprisingly, younger generations are slightly less afraid of this developing technology than their older counterparts. While 85% of Baby Boomers (Americans born between 1946 and 1964) admitted being afraid to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle, Gen X (generally defined as Americans born from 1965 to the early 1980s) and Millennials (generally defined as Americans born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) are slightly less fearful, at 75% and 73% respectively. Similarly, 54% of drivers would actually feel less safe sharing the roads with AVs.

While most Americans are fearful of fully self-driving vehicles, a clear majority (59%) desire some AV technology in their next vehicle. Although the number of vehicles with AV systems is steadily increasing, these public reaction numbers are virtually unchanged from a similar survey taken one year ago. American drivers understandably are not receptive to totally relinquishing control of their vehicles on the road. That may be a sound instinct. Despite advances in automatic braking, lane departure prevention, and adaptive cruise control, AV control systems are far from flawless at this point. All of the various autonomous AV control systems tested to date according to AAA’s protocols have failed in some respect to perform satisfactorily in AAA’s scenarios. To educate consumers on the effectiveness of developing AV technologies, AAA plans to continue testing new systems as they are made available.

Another concern many drivers have is how AV systems will operate in their own vehicles. Drivers overwhelmingly and justly believe that autonomous systems should work similarly in all vehicle makes and models from all manufacturers. That is not currently the case. AAA says that prior testing of automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, self-parking technology and lane keeping systems has shown great promise, but also great variation in functionality.

To date the Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Administration have not promulgated any regulations or standards requiring self-driving systems to operate uniformly across manufacturers. However, the recent adoption of the SAE J3106 standard shows movement toward establishing a uniform industry best practice for AV technology in America. Given the results of AAA’s recent survey, establishing such a consensus standard would surely promote development, implementation and public acceptance of AV technology. Doing so would also be superior from the industry’s standpoint to complying with legally mandated governmental standards imposed by regulation.

Will the automobile industry be able to proceed in this fashion? Time will tell.