DETROIT -- Consumer acceptance could be the biggest barrier to autonomous vehicles, one expert said at the SAE World Congress here last week.
Jay Joseph, senior manager for American Honda Motor Co.'s product regulatory office, said U.S. consumers will need to be confident that the technology works.
"Assuming the vehicle is made and is capable, I think [the biggest possible barrier] is acceptance," Joseph said. "It boils down to people trusting it, and not just the person that you want to buy and be an occupant in that vehicle, but everybody else on the road has to trust that it will operate as [automakers say] it does before they'll accept sharing the road with it."
With autonomous driving, sensors and other equipment keep a vehicle in a lane and a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. Extra features, such as GPS, can guide a vehicle to a destination. Also, cars can communicate with one another automatically to brake and avoid accidents.
But engineers say that when it comes time for drivers to take back control, they might be distracted, drunk or asleep. Also, liability issues if accidents do occur complicate autonomous driving.
Fully autonomous vehicles aren't expected to become commercially available until about 2025, several experts said during an SAE panel discussion.
The industry has moved from the 1970s focus on passive crash safety to crash avoidance in 2013, said Robert Yakushi, Nissan North America's product safety and environmental director.
Meeting consumer expectations of autonomous vehicles will be key, Yakushi said.
"All other things being equal -- we've solved the governmental regulatory issues, the legal issues, the technology issues -- I think it will be consumer expectation," Yakushi said. "What are the consumers expecting?"