Somewhere around half of us currently feel uneasy about the prospect of being driven around by a fully-autonomous, self-driving car.
At least, that’s the takeaway from a survey of over 1,500 people in the US and Germany conducted by Gartner, Inc. earlier this year. According to that survey’s findings, 55 percent of people in the two countries would not ride in a self-driving vehicle. Another survey, carried out this year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found something similar, with 48 percent of the study’s 3,000 respondents saying they would never purchase a vehicle that drives itself. Still another study, conducted by J.D. Power, showed consumer trust in the technology waning among all generations except Generation Y – the “Millennial” generation.
Respondents in all studies reportedly just didn’t feel confident in the technology’s ability to safely transport them from A to B, citing possibilities like equipment malfunctions, glitches, and security breeches.
For all of society’s concerns, however, fully-autonomous cars could provide transportation far safer than our current human-piloted ones. Machines don’t suffer from head colds or fatigue; they don’t get inebriated or distracted; they’re capable of making highly-precise calculations nearly instantaneously; and, equipped with the right sensors, they can see better in unfavorable conditions like nighttime or thick fog. Assuming issues like security, equipment malfunctions, and software bugs can be put to bed, they ought to prove far more reliable than humans – at least on paper.
But even if all those potential risks can be mitigated, we’d wager there will yet remain a considerable portion of the human population that simply wants nothing to do with self-driving cars. While the three surveys mentioned above address the question of Would you put your life in the hands of an autonomous automobile?, they neglect to address the matter of whether consumers would want to be chauffeured around by a machine, denied the chance to take command of the automobile for themselves.
Given the right set of wheels, driving is immensely pleasurable. Wheelspin can be fun. Oversteer can be fun. Slicing up corners on a curvy mountain road can be fun. It would take a callous person to insist that the 37,000-some traffic fatalities that occurred in the US last year don’t matter, but there are other ways to shrink that number; better driver education, smarter road design, improved crash safety, expanded public transit access, and even active driver assists all come to mind.
That’s not to mention that no fully-autonomous vehicle will ever be totally free of fatalities. It’s a chaotic world.
What those other surveys failed to ask, we are asking you now: Assuming autonomous vehicles could be made considerably safer than human-driven cars on average, would you willingly surrender your keys to be driven to and fro by a robot? Weigh-in using our state-of-the-art poll, and feel free to outline your thinking in the Comments section below.