Drivers are increasingly wary of autonomous vehicles, with fear of self-driving technology spiking in the past year, the American Automobile Association (AAA) annual survey on consumer attitudes to automated vehicles shows.
About 68 percent of American drivers are afraid of autonomous vehicles in 2023, according to survey data. An additional 23 percent of drivers are “unsure” of their attitude to the technology, leaving only nine percent who trust self-driving vehicles.
Attitudes to autonomous vehicles changed sharply compared to the 2022 AAA annual automated vehicle survey, when 55 percent of drivers were afraid of the technology. Last year, 15 percent trusted self-driving vehicles and 30 percent were unsure. Earlier years showed roughly similar distributions.
AAA’s director of automotive research Greg Brannon said the 13 percent surge in negative attitudes toward autonomous vehicles was unexpected. However, he also remarked, “with the number of high-profile crashes that have occurred from over-reliance on current vehicle technologies, this isn’t entirely surprising.”
About ten percent of drivers also mistakenly believe consumer vehicles with current self-driving technology are fully robotic, able to drive themselves to a destination while the driver sleeps in their seat. Naming schemes for these driver assist features contribute to the misperception. Nearly a quarter of Americans believe Tesla’s AutoPilot and other technologies with “pilot” in the name are able to drive autonomously with no human input.
GM’s autonomous technology has names less likely to be mistaken for robotic, fully autonomous vehicles. Super Cruise provides semi-autonomous driver assistance which includes enabling its driver to remove their hands from the steering wheel during extended periods of highway driving. The NHTSA classifies it as a Level 2 autonomous technology, far short of the Level 5 classification given to fully self-driving vehicles requiring no human attention or input.
Super Cruise was formerly hailed as the number-one active driving assistance system by Consumer Reports. However, Ford’s BlueCruise displaced it in 2023 because of its “collaborative driving” capability. This enables the driver to take over driving briefly, then hand control back to BlueCruise without needing to switch it on again. Super Cruise, though still a close second in the rankings, disengages fully when any driver input occurs, making the interface relatively more troublesome and awkward to deal with.
GM’s upcoming Ultra Cruise greatly extends the capabilities of Super Cruise for autonomous vehicles. Planned for a 2023 debut on certain Cadillac brand vehicles, Ultra Cruise will eventually enable hands-free driving in 95 percent of all driving scenarios on every paved road in the United States and Canada. Ultra Cruise uses a mixture of cameras, radars and LiDAR to develop a precise 360-degree, three-dimensional picture of its environment. It will also feature a Human Machine Interface or HMI able to warn drivers when they need to provide input or take over.
Level 5 autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves without a human driver’s attention or input are not currently available for consumer purchase. The survey notes fear of current semi-autonomous driving systems highlights the need for much greater consumer education about autonomous vehicles and driver assistance technology.