Nobody wants to ride in a self-driving car

While it hasn’t been in the news as much lately, work is still being done on improving and deploying the technology required for self-driving vehicles to share the streets with us. Uber has been working on it for a while now with an eye toward eventually eliminating their drivers entirely. Similarly, manufacturers and distributors have expressed interest in self-driving trucks to cut down on supply chain costs, though Congress has thus far been protecting the truck drivers who would lose their jobs as a result.

But how do regular commuters feel about the technology? Are people really ready to jump in the back of a car with no driver at the wheel and allow it to pull out onto the highway? AAA conducted a survey of drivers recently and found that the vast majority of people aren’t ready to take that sort of technological leap. And now they want to figure out how that might change and get people more comfortable with the concept. (CBS Minnesota)

We’ve been hearing about self-driving cars for some time now. But a new survey by AAA shows many people still are not sure about the technology.

The survey shows only 1 in 10 drivers say they would trust riding in a self-driving car, and 28% say they don’t know how they feel about the technology.

According to AAA, trust in automated vehicles can improve with more tangible information on key issues, as well as quality education and experience.

Ten percent is a pretty low figure to be starting from. I’m pretty sure even Congress has a higher approval rating than that, and they poll worse than the coronavirus most of the time. But what are the concerns that people are expressing and what would it take to get them on board?

The most obvious concern is the lack of control of the vehicle and the fear of it getting in an accident. 70% of respondents said that they would be more comfortable with a self-driving car if they had the ability to take over control in the event that something goes wrong. That strikes me as a rather false sense of security, though. Part of the supposed advantage of having a self-driving car is that it frees you up to other things, using your time more productively or perha[ps even taking a nap. And if so, you’re not going to be paying anywhere near as much attention to the road so you won’t be able to react quickly enough in a sudden emergency. Also, if you have to sit there the entire time watching the road and being ready to grab the wheel at any moment (assuming there even is a wheel), it’s not really doing much for you, is it?

Not all the concerns expressed were based on physical safety. 60% of respondents wanted a better understanding of who would be legally at fault in the event of an accident. If your self-driving car runs down a bicyclist and kills her (as happened in Arizona), does her family sue you or the manufacturer of the vehicle? Even worse, if you’re struck by one of these things, can you receive compensation from the passenger or do you have to fight Tesla in court?

Personally, I’m not quite as concerned over the ability of the technology to ferry us around as I am with the underlying artificial intelligence involved. It sounds as if they are getting to the point where the cars can safely navigate their way around under normal circumstances. But when the unexpected happens (as it always will), I’d want to know a lot more about the “decision making” process going on under the hood. If three people suddenly leap out in front of my car with no safe way to avoid them and I’m the only passenger inside, will the car choose to hurl me off of a cliff to spare three lives at the cost of one?

Also, how much of the car’s intelligence is completely internal and how much (if any) is it relying on satellite data? If that GPS signal and other information are suddenly lost, can the car keep driving safely or will it just drift into the oncoming lane of traffic while I’m busy writing an article in the back seat? The companies making these vehicles are going to have to do a much better job of providing some clarity in all these areas.

Clearly, the era of self-driving cars is on the way and it’s going to open up some untested waters in personal injury law as well as technology. Are we ready for that? We’d better be, because the future is already here.