University report shows hesitancy toward driverless vehicles

Saturday, June 11, 2016 - 9:23pm

Most Americans still prefer to have at least some control over their vehicles while driving, according to a recent report released by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute examining motorists’ preferences for vehicle automation.

Brandon Schoettle, UMTRI project manager, and Michael Sival, UMTRI research professor — the report’s authors — studied motorists’ preferences when driving or riding in self-driving cars.

The report is a follow-up on a similar survey published in 2014. The authors were surprised to find that results were relatively unchanged between the two years.

“Public opinion has been very consistent over the course of these two surveys,” Schoettle said. “We were somewhat surprised by this in light of the increased media coverage over the past few years.”

The researchers found that the most frequent preference for vehicle automation was no self-driving capability, which is the same as last year’s survey. About 46 percent of those surveyed stated that they would prefer a vehicle with no self-driving capability. Nearly 39 percent said that they would prefer a partially self-driving vehicle, and just under 16 percent said they would prefer a completely self-driving vehicle.

“The results of this survey give those developing these vehicles more information about the public perception and acceptance issues that they need to overcome,” Schoettle said.

This disinclination towards automated vehicles comes despite the University's ongoing investment in Mcity, a site on North Campus built in partnership with several major automotive companies with the purpose of testing self-driving cars. Mcity and the University’s Mobility Transformation Center have been spearheading research on driverless cars through testing sites and other essential data-gathering initiatives. 

Additionally, the report also examines respondents’ concerns over the safety of riding in self-driving vehicles.

“Concern for riding in either type of self-driving vehicle is high, but concern is highest for riding in a completely self-driving vehicle,” Schoettle said.

The study found that about 37 percent of respondents were very concerned about riding in completely self-driving vehicles, while about 53 percent were either moderately or slightly concerned. Only 9.7 percent were not concerned about riding in completely self-driving cars.

With regards to riding in partially self-driving vehicles, only about 17 percent were very concerned compared to 67 percent, who were moderately or slightly concerned. Nearly 17 percent were not concerned about riding in partially self-driving vehicles.

The researchers also found that females expressed greater concern than males for riding in completely self-driving cars, and older respondents tended to have greater concern than younger ones for riding in both completely and partially self-driving vehicles.

Schoettle said people’s concern for self-driving cars might be due to their anxiety over the new technology.

“It is likely that more information and more hands-on experience will do a lot to alleviate some of the anxiety that people feel about these vehicles,” Schoettle said. “We think that much of the current public perception is based on having to imagine interacting with such vehicles, as nearly no one has ever ridden in or experienced one. Anxiety regarding the unknown seems to play a big role.”

Business graduate student Esteban Plaza-Jennings, a member of the Automotive Club at the Ross School of Business, agreed with Schoettle that the public concern primarily stems from a fear of the unknown.

“People are wary of driverless cars because it’s a new technology which has yet to be proven,” Plaza-Jennings said.

Plaza-Jennings, a self-proclaimed automotive enthusiast, said that driverless cars do not particularly appeal to him, but he does believe that students will likely be more open to autonomous vehicles.

“I believe that they will become a common sight on U.S. roads in the not too distant future because they will offer consumers so many benefits,” Plaza-Jennings said.