WASHINGTON -- Consumers are more likely to embrace the idea of self-driving vehicles if they own cars with driver-assist features and have experienced the technology's safety advantages firsthand, according to preliminary results from a survey by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
People who drive cars with at least two semiautomated functions -- such as adaptive cruise control, active lane-keeping assistance or advanced emergency braking -- have much more favorable attitudes toward autonomous vehicles (62 percent favorable to 35 percent unfavorable) than those who have none (43 percent to 54 percent).
Openness to self-driving technology is slightly higher (46 percent to 53 percent) for motorists with cars that have one driver-assist feature.
The findings were cited in prepared testimony by Alliance President Mitch Bainwol for Wednesday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles.
"As these technologies make their way into the national fleet, consumer acceptance will grow materially," he said. "Effectively, these technologies have a multiplier impact: The more consumers experience driver assist systems, the more excited they become about the prospect of self-driving technologies."
Automakers are pushing to create fertile policy conditions for developing robot vehicles because the technology -- and business interest in it -- is progressing much faster than expected a few years ago. Public perception can influence how lawmakers view autonomous vehicles and how much freedom to give companies to test on public roads.
Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., and Democrats Gary Peters of Michigan and Bill Nelson of Florida plan to introduce a bill soon that's designed to provide software developers and automakers with more regulatory certainty so they can invest with confidence in artificial intelligence, sensors and communication systems.
Similar legislation is being drafted in the House.
Bainwol noted that autonomous vehicles offer the opportunity to significantly lower highway fatalities, which increased 7 percent in 2015 to 35,092 deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that final figures for 2016 will show a further 10 percent increase. The vast majority of automobile accidents are attributed to human behavior or error.