Consumer trust in self-driving cars has plummeted following high-profile roadway fatalities, with almost three-quarters of Americans now saying they are too afraid to ride in an autonomous vehicle, according to a new survey.
The survey by AAA shows faith in autonomous vehicles has been shaken by two March incidents: A pedestrian in Arizona struck and killed by an Uber self-driving car and a fatality involving a Tesla Model X operating in semiautonomous Autopilot mode. The fear factor reported by 73 percent of those polled last month was up 10 points from late 2017 and nearly erased gains from the 78 percent afraid of automated cars early last year.
The biggest surge in anxiety comes from young adults, ages 20 to 37, with 64 percent now saying they're afraid to ride in a self-driving car, up from 49 percent at the end of last year. The so-called millennial generation had previously been the most accepting of the new technology.
"Our results show any incident involving an autonomous vehicle is likely to shake consumer trust, which is a critical component to the widespread acceptance of autonomous vehicles," Greg Brannon, AAA's director of automotive engineering and industry relations, said in a statement. "This technology is relatively new and everyone is watching it closely."
The creators of self-driving technology, such as Waymo, have acknowledged they have a trust problem with the public and have actively worked to fix it. That is especially urgent as Waymo prepares to begin a driverless ride-hailing business in Arizona this year and General Motors promises to follow next year in an unspecified major American city. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has called on companies developing self-driving cars to educate the public on their safety.
Interest and anxiety is so high that Tesla crashes receive outsized attention as investors and safety advocates seek to learn whether Autopilot was in use. It isn't clear yet whether a fatal accident near San Francisco involved Autopilot; the National Transportation Safety Board isn't investigating.