Google, Uber and Tesla may be giddy about the prospect of self-driving cars, but U.S. consumers aren't convinced that the technology is safe or that they need it. Only 10 percent of people surveyed by the University of Michigan said they would have no concerns at all about riding in fully self-driving cars, while two thirds said they would be moderately or very concerned about it. The level of confidence goes up a little for cars that would be only partially self-driving. In that case, 16 percent would have no concern and 50 percent would be moderately or very concerned. The research shows that while coverage of self-driving cars and the technology behind them has increased in the media, consumers are still unsure that the cars are safe.
Cars capable of driving themselves may be on the showroom floor sooner than you think, but whether they should come with all the current essentials -- including a steering wheel and pedals on the floor -- has the auto industry at a fork in the road. Ford sided with the pioneering engineers at Google last week in announcing plans to introduce limited-use vehicles without traditional controls within five years. Some other major automakers -- and virtually all of them are well along in their work on self-driving vehicles -- say they will introduce automated elements one step at a time, until drivers accept that they no longer need to control their cars. The different approaches are rooted in conflicting views of safety and what the public is willing to accept. "It's almost like asking people before they even really knew what an iPhone was, how the iPhone might change their lives," said Johanna Zmud, senior research scientist at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
For a while, people were really excited about the potential of self-driving cars, which promised to make our future commutes easier, more productive, and safer. Then came some high-profile autonomous vehicle accidents -- including two fatal crashes -- and let's just say the excitement has waned a bit. SEE ALSO: Tesla's Autopilot fails haven't shaken my faith in self-driving cars. A new survey released Tuesday by the American Automobile Association found that 73 percent of American drivers are scared to ride in an autonomous vehicle. That figure is up 10 percent from the end of last year.
In March 2015, an Audi SQ5 began its nine-day journey from the Golden Gate Bridge to midtown Manhattan. The 3400-mile drive involved the normal obstacles: construction, highways, city driving, lane-passing. Until recently, the concept of a driverless car seemed like the stuff of science fiction. But much has changed in just a few short years as the technology behind autonomous vehicles has taken huge strides. The cross-country driving Audi, powered by technology from Delphi, drove in autonomous mode 99 percent of the time. The US federal government has also begun to embrace autonomous vehicles as a coming reality. In February 2016, the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) announced that it considers the AI powering Google's driverless cars (which have already logged hundreds of thousands of self-driven miles) officially a "driver"--marking a groundbreaking moment in the history of transportation.
Once only seen on futuristic television shows like "The Jetsons," self-driving cars could park themselves in your garage – and do a whole lot more – sooner than you think. As automakers begin to equip cars with technologies that take control from the driver, it's not unrealistic to expect self-driving cars to hit the market within the next decade. The state of Nevada recently granted Google a license to test its self-driving car on public streets. Tomorrow, the Department of Transportation will kick off a program to pilot-test 2,800 connected vehicles in Ann Arbor with communication devices that allow them to talk to each other and avert accidents on their own. A recent report by The Center for Automotive Research and KPMG concludes that self-driving cars for consumers are inevitable – it only depends on how quickly the country can adopt the technology and infrastructure.